who’s left and who’s leaving

Day 4: Saturday, March 17, 2012

Prompt: Talk about a time when you left home.

I left home at eighteen, to move to college. But it wasn’t until twenty-one that I really left. If moving to college was leaving my immediate circle of comfort, moving abroad for an academic quarter was going to be like leaping out of my comfort zone without a parachute.

Or so I thought.

I remember flying over the Atlantic staring out the tiny airplane window at the five a.m. sky, Sigur Ros mournfully pouring out of my earbuds. I remember landing, hurrying through the airport and connecting with the others in my program. I remember riding through the countryside, marveling at how the landscape looked so, surprisingly, similar to the place I’d just left.

I waited a few days for the culture shock I’d heard so much about to sink in. It never did; somehow, among all my fear around transitions and change, I’d become adaptable. For two nights, I had a hard time sleeping, jet lag and time changes waking me at 4 a.m. to have a chat with my roommates before sleeping again. A couple weeks in, I accidentally spoke Spanish to some Italians in a local bar, pints of beer clouding my judgment. And of course, a few times, I managed to get lost in the ridiculous sort of way only I can.

Amidst the trips to the Pantheon and the Roman Forum and the coffee shop on the corner, there was gossip and backbiting within my program. As had happened many times before, I didn’t assimilate well into the group; I wasn’t universally liked, no matter how much I’d wanted a perfect study-abroad experience. Outdoor lunches with a friend at our favorite panini place were tainted with anxiety over a relationship I needed to end and heartbreak over a boy I couldn’t have.

I’d been advised to keep a journal of my experience so that one day I could look back and remember everything. The time I should’ve spent writing about our nights in Trastevere and trips to Florence was instead full of writing and worrying about daily life: friends, boys, my future, whether I was uncool for not drinking every night or whether I was a bad person for drinking at all when my roommates never did.

I thought that maybe leaving would change everything, that being somewhere new would make everything different. Instead, I was slapped in the face with the reality of the quote wherever you go, there you are.

I wish I could flip through pages about my activities in a foreign land, the people I met and the adventures I had. Instead, however, I have memories of lifelong friendships, songs that changed my life, and learning to stand on my own and be who I am, regardless of where I am.

2 thoughts on “who’s left and who’s leaving

  1. i relate to a lot of this – similar landscapes, studying abroad, and “wherever you go, there you are”. i’m always fascinated by the cliches that ring so true. thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. I had a similar experience with my first trip abroad. I went with my school choir to Germany and Austria the summer after I graduated high school, and everything came with me — boy drama, friend drama… It was the same situation I’d be in at home, just playing out in another country. That quote you shared is a perfect way to sum it up.

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