Written by Carl Altaner
This time last year, I was dancing on a trestle table, clad in lederhosen, swigging from a one-litre mug of Bavarian beer, steaming drunk, belting out the Oktoberfest classic ‘Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit’.
Yesterday, I walked to Tesco Metro through drizzly rain and noticed with mild dismay that Freddos now cost 30p.
Such comparisons often come to mind when I reflect on how much my life has changed since I returned from my year abroad in Mannheim, Germany. It seems impossible that time could flow so fast; that events like Munich’s Oktoberfest could already have vanished into the past.
I’m sure many of you have similar feelings about your time at university so far – where did the time go? How can we be looking for lifelong careers? It feels like not so long ago we were bunking off lectures because everyone knows first year doesn’t count.
Coming back from a year abroad is particularly jarring in this sense. Returning to Falmouth is like waking up to a hangover after a heavy night in town. It’s comfortable and familiar, but you feel thoroughly grim because the sesh lasted, not one night, an entire year. It’s a splash of cold water that brings you back down to Earth with a bump.
While abroad, I watched old friends make new friends, hand in their dissertations and graduate. Towards the end of last year, it felt like I’d already graduated. I’d left behind the world of university months and months ago. It had come to feel a thousand miles away as I contended with a different country, a different language, and different people. In a sense, I’d moved on. My horizons had broadened beyond it.
So it was certainly surreal coming back to Falmouth this September. Over the summer, at home in London, I looked forward to the chance to start afresh in a place I already knew so well. After so much novelty and strangeness, coming back to our cosy corner of Cornwall has been pretty pleasant. It doesn’t have the same level of excitement as Germany, or the same quality of beer. It’s more like putting on your favourite pair of old trainers – reassuring and cushy.
There are no Cornish pasties out in Germany, or 99 Flakes topped with clotted cream. There’s chewy bratwurst with curry sauce, but no chicken tikka masala or Szechuan from Ming’s Garden or Rising Dragon. I’m not sure I prefer Cod on the Corner’s battered sausages or Efendi Döner’s crunchy kebabs, Doom Bar or Eichbaum Export, but I know my insides hate them all equally. Being able to actually understand the conversation around me as I stroll through the cobblestone streets is great. People apologise when they bump into you, and even when you bump into them, rather than glaring at you for daring to walk in a straight line rather than dodging and bobbing through the crowd like Muhammed Ali in a boxing ring.
Relatively few people have the chance to go to university, let alone study abroad and get paid by the EU to do so. Many study abroad students came back alone, with most or all of our old friends out looking for jobs in the real world, which is undoubtedly difficult. But the chance to start again and meet new people not once or twice, but three times while at university is a rare opportunity. It can be bittersweet, but what in adult life isn’t?