Located on the Eastern coast of the Kingdom of Spain, Valencia is a lovely city and province (they both share the same name) with lots of history, local culture and picturesque scenery. This was where my dear friend Le Dinh Nam, an honorable student from the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences, at VinUniversity, arrived for his first trip away from home and into a new learning environment. Specifically, he would be spending his time at Valencia Polytechnic University (UPV) to study, make friends, and immerse in the Spanish experience. When I asked him of his impression of the university and the trip overall, he simply gave me the answer:
“It was like a dream.”
And I suppose I can relate, as a fellow who had traveled to Europe before (though not the Mediterranean), on how breath-taking and eye-opening Europe can be. He even told me off-hand that he spent his time in Spain more for partying than studying… Haha, such is youth. That is not to say he neglects his studies, mind you, but he simply enjoys the company of others more than often while away.
“The parties in Valencia can sometimes be so crazy. This season, they have constant fireworks, day after day.” Nam told me while we were having a cool, refreshing drink at the interview table.
Tourists often flock to the city this time of year to join in the festive mood and it can be so overwhelming that the locals prefer to move out of the city for the time being to avoid the noise pollution. Yet, Nam still managed to have a good time there, bathing in the sun, swimming in Ibiza beaches and making an upward of (and let me quote him correctly) “100 friends”. Now that is a true social butterfly if I ever see one. Of course, with all of that fun in a place far away from home, surely he must still be missing his family and homeland… right?
“Nah, not at all, because I had a lot of fun.”
My dude literally went on to forget his own home to make a new home somewhere else. His stay was not simply isolated in a province, either. Thanks to the Schengen visa (a special type of visa in EU nations that allow for unlimited border crossing), Nam even took a backpacking trip across approximately 5 - 13 (he really confused me with the number) countries to visit, enjoy their beauty and even meet old acquaintances.
Nevertheless, all the fun has to come to an end eventually and by July, he was on his flight back to Vietnam. Returning to the land where he was born and grew up, Nam was suddenly struck with a realization that… he did not feel belong here anymore. A classic symptom of the infamous “post-exchange syndrome”, this sense of alienation from the place of birth is typically found in students who had spent a considerable time abroad.
“I cried inside every single day and I’m having an identity crisis,” Nam admitted.
In a way, spending an entire semester (around 6 months) in Spain has gradually made him feel at home there. He has a good time, good friends, good food, good… everything there, no wonder he becomes attached to it. Hence, to suddenly be detached from it and throw back at this strange place in Asia where you had not seen or missed much, it takes a toll on some people. The recovery process was not easy, either. He found it “super difficult” to re-adapt to Vietnam, its climate, culture and everything else.
“I just want to have more parties in Spain.”
It was almost like an addiction, the post-exchange syndrome makes one nostalgic about how things used to be during their travels and now that they are no longer capable of doing so, it depresses them. So how is Nam right now, you may ask? Well, he is doing well, from what I can tell. He readily admitted that he missed Spain, but not to the extent that he forgot everything in Vietnam: the friends that he had and the family that he belonged to. In his opinion, it will take him a while to truly be “back” in Vietnam but he is doing his best. Working hard in his internship, hanging out with friends and eating Vietnamese food, it might feel like a foreigner coming to Vietnam for the first time but it was better than nothing. It is especially important when he has learned this lesson while away:
“Stop and appreciate the moment you are living.”
There is no use crying over the past, he lives for the present now and the present is that he is in Vietnam. Nam will adapt, he will thrive and he will be home again. Then again, it is not like he cannot go back to Spain ever again. If he works hard in Vietnam, he will be given the chance to once again travel and maybe he can return to that second home he had made in the Mediterranean.
At this point, I just want to end this blog on a positive note for all of you, dear readers. Post-exchange syndrome can be a scary phenomenon to endure, but for avid travelers like Nam and I, the trips abroad will always be worth it. You can learn so much just by being there, instead of just reading about them through books and the Internet. The friends you made are also equally important, they make you realize how, though distant from one another in terms of geography and culture, everyone is still human, and we all have relatable human experiences. As such, a temporary reverse culture shock is only a minor inconvenience that anyone can gradually adapt through time. Here, I will leave you with this wonderful quote from Nam himself:
“I hope everybody can go abroad once in their life to learn more about tons of things you will never learn through books.”
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