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  • Writer's pictureCaylie Poola

This isn't a weekender guide

I started this blog because of how much I love to write.

And share.

And tell stories.

And look back on them all.

My weekender guides have been undoubtedly a pain in my ass, but in the most beautiful way. I promised myself I would finish them - and I will.

Today, instead of talking about travel, recommendations and reminiscing on the months I spent studying abroad, I want to talk about the transition back into college and how challenging (while exciting) it has been for me.

Before Studying Abroad

To be completely honest, my fall semester in Florence was the most normal semester of college I have had since COVID. As a UConn transfer student, my seemingly normal 8 months of undergrad dorm living, a chaotic completely fun mess was cut short by the pandemic and in the following year and a half I enjoyed the company of my small group of best friends, nestled in our college town apartment enjoying baking, binging TV shows, driving each other crazy in the best way, and leaving our apartment to work out or go to the grocery store only. When I think back on this time, I smile. It was uninterrupted, priceless quality time with my friends that I will probably never be able to replicate quite the same. I no longer waited for the weekend to go out and spend money on drinks at the bar, but to make cocktails and play dumb games with the girls. I soaked in all of my alone time, but never felt alone. I was surrounded by people who cared so much about me and I navigated my professional and personal goals with their help - leading me to apply to study abroad.

After Studying Abroad

I'm not going to pretend that studying abroad your senior year of college is normal, and I can see the reasoning behind why some would simply never consider it. While I love UConn, I felt myself loosing my connection towards college and finding fulfillment in making plans for the future and travel. Study abroad is new and exciting. I found an independence within myself I didn't even think existed. Navigating and becoming comfortable in a new foreign city, walking places by myself, filling my time with what I wanted to do. In Florence, thousands and thousands of miles away from my family and friends, I learned more about myself and discovered what I really valued - without anyone else's say. I saw history, art, met interesting, dynamic and a diverse range of people. I listened to stories, was given advice, and comfort when I needed it. I felt the pressure of what I THINK I should be doing or what I am "supposed" to be doing fade, and started doing my own thing, and owning it. I don't think at the time, I was able to really recognize the growth I was experiencing, but the further away this chapter in my life feels, the more apparent it becomes.

The In-Between

I'm calling the in-between the right before, and right after of studying abroad. In my case, my summer was a few weeks longer than my friends who were returning to their college towns, and I returned home just before everyone came back for the holidays. During these "in-betweens" I found solace in doing nothing. Focusing on myself and prioritizing my goals more than anything else. With little distraction and obligation, I gained a confidence in myself that I had never really discovered before. I got used to living at home, in the company of my family, (which after 2020, wasn't too big of an adjustment). I rested. I found a workout that makes me feel good about myself and a community within that. I earned an internship. I read. I called friends. I made home cooked meals. I didn't rush.

My Last Semester of College

I have had the most unconventional college experience. In some ways, I can barely recognize the girl who started freshman year at Elon University in North Carolina, and the girl who is going to be graduating from the University of Connecticut this spring. In many ways, I am savoring this time, as I get to live with my lifelong best friend and take a lighter course load then ever before. What I can't seem to shake is the feeling of restlessness and impatience I have. In many ways, going back into college lecture halls brings me back to being 19, and at 21, it feels like no time - and also 10 years has passed. I've found myself lost in the college lifestyle, feeling at times that my interests and hobbies don't fit in the same ways they used to. The decisions about my post-grad plans linger in the back of my head 24/7. And when I think about it for too long, I realize that I probably spent more time home than in college the last 4 years after breaking my knee, COVID and study abroad. I guess in some ways, I would be more worried if it felt completely normal.

I feel so lucky to have great friends and organizations to go back to at UConn, and while it feels weird and unnatural at times to have a backpack on headed to class I know that in even just a year from now I will think back on this time, and just like every chapter of my life before, I'll smile in the beautiful chaos of it all.

If you ever feel like COVID or the past few years in general has changed your college experience (or high school, newly post-grad life) please know you are not alone. The best thing to remember is that there is no such thing as NORMAL anymore. We create our own realities and the only way you can create a life you love is if you stay true to what makes you happy and what you believe is right for you.

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