When you begin to plan your year abroad, or meet those who have recently returned from their own, the words you often hear are “it will be the best year of your life”. However, as my own departure date drew closer, I began to doubt this sentiment. The administration I had already encountered was proving to be relentless and slow, and the stress of further paperwork and bureaucracy was beginning to dawn on me alongside the concerns of separation and culture shock. As I left for my first semester in Kazan, Russia, I was very nervous; but by the time I arrived in St Petersburg for my second semester, I felt truly excited and a lot more self- assured. I had already conquered 4 months of bureaucracy, strangeness,
In contrast, St Petersburg was a breeze: the administration was fundamentally better- organised and my academic timetable was tailored to my interests. Besides, on the year abroad, academics play a relatively unimportant role in your time (but don’t tell my supervisors I said that). I swanned into lectures about the history of the Russian revolution and the Soviet, as well as lectures on Akhmatova and Sociology, while also taking up an internship at a clothing company. Between lectures and my job, I enjoyed an active social life. St Petersburg lived up to its reputation as the cultural capital of Russia: every weekend a new exhibition opened at a gallery or in a ‘loft project’, and free festivals and concerts often popped up around town. Never before had my life been so full of spontaneity and excitement, and free of responsibilities. As saccharine as this may sound, I will remember those 5 months in Piter as some of the best of my life, and I’m immensely grateful for the time I spent there – but I’m well aware that my current situation feeds my nostalgic perspective on the past.
Coming home was bittersweet. Despite the brilliant memories, I had missed my friends and my homeland. At first, I was glad to revisit Cambridge, but readjusting to the Cambridge lifestyle was a huge shock to the system. Having barely done any academic work for 12 months, the workload now seemed almost insurmountable. More than anything, there has been a fundamental shift in my approach to my social life: every social encounter in Cambridge must be micro-managed and slotted into a perfectly organised timetable. All spontaneity is erased. The freedom afforded to you in the year abroad vanishes, and all sense of adventure diminishes to nil.
My entire first term of 4th year I mourned the end of my year abroad, to the point where nostalgia almost kept me from the present. However, the constant flurry of questions that finalists are affronted with, questions about jobs and careers, applications and psychometric tests, forced me to re-evaluate my perspective. Living abroad means living on a day-to-day basis. My nostalgia is pure escapism – and if it takes living abroad to escape the incessant “so what are your plans for after you graduate?”, then I’d do it all again.