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Learning How to Go Home

Looking out over a sunset at Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka. Saoirse Clohessy

Being abroad has taught me many things, including that everything comes to an end. 

When you get to the end of your Raleigh International experience, you get advised to stay in touch. Not just with the charity, but with the people you've just spent 10 intense weeks with. People who were complete strangers at the start, but soon became family. Family you cooked meals with, family you sometimes went hungry with. Family you slept next to on the floor, in a tent, or used the same tree to hang your hammock. Family you dug holes for your toilets with, family who poured water over your hair to wash it thoroughly on the rare occasion there was enough spare water. Family you showed bug bites to, new grazes, strange rashes. Family who saw you at your absolute worst, exhausted, homesick, teary, tired, cranky—and family who saw you at your absolute best, conquering whatever nature and rural environments threw your way, overcoming problems and working as an integral part of a team.

And then you reach the end and suddenly this "family" is gone and no one else can understand what you went through apart from your Raleigh family. I went through this twice in a row. I finished my Nepal expedition and went almost straight into a Borneo expedition. I suppose Borneo could have been seen as a rebound, a hair of the dog, but it wasn't. Even as I made just as amazing friends in Borneo, my heart still ached for the familiar faces of Nepal, and Nepal in general. And so come September when I said goodbye again, I realized I wouldn't be content with being away from people I loved. I needed to go home, and there was no shame in admitting that.

It would have be easy to carry on volunteering and seeing the world. But I needed to go home and there was no shame in admitting that.

All this is a very long winded way of saying how important it is to be in touch with where your emotions and thoughts are stemming from. It would have been easy—perhaps easier—to carry on volunteering, backpacking and seeing the world. I enjoy making new friends and I'm comfortable with being a nomad, but sometimes it's okay to say, "You know what? I just want a hug from my family."

And so, I came back and predictably started thinking about the next escape. But this time, rather than get carried away with the romantic notion of travelling, I've decided to question these thoughts of going abroad. What is the feeling behind these thoughts? What's driven them to the surface? I'm giving myself space and time to pinpoint why I volunteered abroad in the first place and what it was about my experience that made my days there so full of meaning.

Nelson Mandela once said, "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered" and that discovery of self-growth is an adventure in itself.

There's still way more to figure out and its a constant battle between the side of me that knows this is the healthy thing to do and the other side that craves adventure. By no means would I try to deter anyone wanting to volunteer abroad. It's a wonderful thing to do and you'll learn many things about yourself.

But I speak to those like me who are feeling a bit lost, hoping that travel would fill the hole only to discover its far deeper than they thought. Don't be afraid to sit down with a pen and paper and write down what makes you feel happy and gives your life meaning. You wouldn't pressure anyone else to be constantly chasing the next adventure, so why do it to yourself? Give yourself some time, and more importantly, allow yourself to enjoy that time.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Saoirse Clohessy

After volunteering in Nepal documenting earthquake relief work, Saoirse Clohessy has set off into the rest of Asia, armed with her camera and a determination to be useful to more charities doing amazing work.

Website: www.facebook.com/saoirseclohessy

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