Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Abroadest Revisited

I came home from work tonight and just sort of sat down and wrote. What came out was my first article as The Abroadest for the martini. This was after bread pudding from the restaurant. While watching Remember the Titans and listening to The Band Perry and Sara Bareilles.

And, like most of what comes out of my head, it's honest and it's real. Also probably a really good way to start off the column that I've inherited for three months.

Here it be:

When I moved onto campus my first year, I brought enough stuff to fit in the back of my dad’s little black pickup truck and my mother’s car. I lived in a converted study in Jackson and if I forgot something at home, it wasn’t that big of a deal to wait a couple of weeks and have the parents come up the 35 miles it is between Watkins Glen and Geneva. Sophomore year went much the same way – including only moving up two floors to Jackson 4 – and having a car on campus was a major plus. Except parking tickets for being caught in Medbury without the right permit. That more or less always sucks.

This semester when I move into where I’m living – a room I’ve never seen in a flat I’ve also never seen – I’m not going to have a carful. I’m not going to have the truck. Everything that I need to survive a semester as a college student will have to fit into one single suitcase. This is because I am the one who has to heft the damn thing from point A to point B and also because I’m kind of cheap and don’t want to pay for multiple checked bags at JFK.

Really, it’s because of the bag fee.

I’ll have one suitcase, a carry-on, and a personal item to take with me on the airplane. There will also probably be a blanket and a pillow. There will be no crate filled with DVD’s, no indoor/outdoor rug for my cold tile floor, no mini-fridge to put under the bed, and no corkboards and posters to decorate the bare walls. I’ll have what I can carry, what I can fit in a certain amount of cubic space.

Odd concept, isn’t it?

With the exception of the international students and those coming from the west coast, most of us probably don’t think about how much stuff we actually move in with. We just cram it into the backseat of mom and dad’s car, and take off for Geneva.

Not being able to do this is one of those nonnegotiable facts of studying abroad. It usually gets lost in the shuffle and excitement of the idea that you’re studying in a foreign country for about three months. And I’m just as excited as everybody else studying abroad this semester, and those who’s anticipation is building for next semester.

But as much as I’m an optimist, I’m also down to earth, and occasionally, a realist. I live 41.38 miles away from home. I go home maybe once a month during the year for a bit of a break and to have dinner with the family. More or less to regroup and refocus. I know that this is something most students don’t have. Most students come from at least a couple hours away.

When I move in this year I’ll do it by myself, toting my suitcase into a strange flat 3,286.93 miles away from my own front door.

I’m not an idiot – I’m really excited about this opportunity. Studying in a foreign country for three months, exploring, learning, meeting new people and visiting new places, appropriately expanding horizons – a lot of people have told me that it’s going to be great, that I’m going to have a blast and that it’s one of those things that will stay with me forever. I’ve got no doubt that they’re right. I’ve always wanted to visit Great Britain and now I have my chance. This is one of those things that you’ll make the most of and if you don’t, you’ll regret it quite vividly about five years from now. And with a personal mantra to regret nothing, it’s not something I’m signing up to do. Like I said, though, I am, on occasion, a realist.

Which means that for as excited as I am, I am also, in a certain capacity, somewhat terrified.

Studying abroad means going completely out of your comfort zone and being thrown into something new and different. They speak English over there, but they also speak Welsh. I have no idea how to speak or read Welsh. It’s not like Spanish, where if you took some in high school and went to Spain or somewhere else that spoke the language fluently, you could at least help yourself a little. I know that ‘dd’ is pronounced ‘th’. That’s about the extent of it. In some ways there’s a language barrier. Not a big one, exactly, but it’s still there.

And the same worries that you had when you first came to college? Am I going to make friends, are they going to like me, am I going to fit in? Yeah, those still apply. Instead of having one roommate that I’ve never met before – and my roommate was pretty cool first year – I’m going to have four or five. It’s like moving into an Odell’s unit that you’ve never seen the inside of with people you’ve never seen on campus before, even in passing. You haven’t spoken to them, you don’t know what they like, what they’re eating and sleeping habits are, or what they’re studying. You don’t know what type of personality they have, what little quirks they possess, and whether or not you leaving the almost-empty jug of milk in the fridge is going to piss them off for a week. Throw in a place that’s not America in any sense of the word, add in a language barrier, jet-lag confusion, and complete disorientation and you’ve got study abroad in a nutshell.

It’s exciting and it’s slightly terrifying.

If it’s not slightly terrifying it should at least make you uneasy in some regard.

If it doesn’t make you uneasy – at least a little – we should probably check on your sanity.

You can be fearless. You can be the type that never looks before you leap and then tries to figure out what to do when you crash into something sharp. Or you can be the type that looks for every single crack in the sidewalk to step over because you don’t want to trip. Or, you can be somewhere in the middle looking at both ends – seeing a semester in Wales as an opportunity that you can’t help but squee loudly when you think about how many days you don’t have left before you go and then freaking out because it’s three months in a foreign country across an ocean and you think you might not be quite ready for it.

What do you do?

Ask me later, when I might know what I’m doing. And that’s not being dramatic – that’s simply being human.


Anonymous said...


Molly Louise said...

Thank you.

"The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn't."

-Joseph L. Mankiewicz