Hello all, it is me again! Now that I have taken you through the long ride of my travels for spring break, this post will be a lot more relaxed. I won’t be taking you to a beautiful city of spires or up into the wild, barren land of lochs and mountains. I want to take time to reflect, because that is what you do when you are about three weeks away from coming home. I’d like to write about the post-travel experience (sort of like the aftermath, honestly), but for right now I’ll focus on what I learned, and what I miss about home.
I think I was avoiding writing a reflection because that would mean that this whole thing is more or less over. I still have some traveling left to do, and three weeks can feel like a long time. I think I am also feeling pressure about final exams, since I have been studying quite a bit in the last few days.
Here is what I have gathered from my time abroad:
I learned how to rely completely on myself. When all I had was what I could strap to my shoulders, I learned to cut away excess and only take what I needed. I didn’t care if my hair looked good, and I couldn’t be bothered to make my eyelashes blacker or longer. I was too busy exploring little corners of the world, trying to remember what I learned in Latin and Mythology to decipher a carving on a 12th century church or on a black-figured vase.
At the end of last semester, Carrie and I had our car packed to the ceiling when we were moving out of our apartment in Fredericksburg. We barely fit all of our clothes, furniture and other junk, shoving extra stuff into the crannies of empty cup holders or in between seats. I look on this memory with embarrassment and hilarity now, realizing that I probably didn’t need half the stuff I drove down I95 with last fall. I think a skill/lesson I will bring back with me from this experience is the ability to pack light and minimally. I lived out of what I could carry in one suitcase for four months; I don’t think I need a whole car to fit what is essential.
I brushed up on how to start from scratch. I made three really great friends here – Hannah, Morgan and Cat. I somehow slid over to them when we were all waiting in the January cold to get on the bus to Saint Andrews. Last week, Hannah told me she had gone home that night and told her mom she was excited because she had made friends. I told her I did the exact same thing. Working from the ground up, I think, is both terrifying and character-building, tiring and healthy, emotionally and relationally difficult, but important. I realized that I lay a lot on the people in my life, and I have a very defined comfort zone when it comes to friends and family. People are always moving, though, and it is important to stretch those relationship muscles that may get soft after being in a constant system of only people you know (and who know you) well. It is vital to keep up that skill, especially now, since my life in the next five and ten years, I expect, will be constantly changing and in motion.
When I think about home, I can picture it with the utmost vibrancy: the way my house looks with the June sun bringing out the dark windows, or the rich colors of my mother’s rose bushes in the back yard. I always remember the insignificant bits too – the way the sidewalk curves to the left or the faded glass table on the back porch that is fixed in my earliest memories. I can imagine myself driving down my street, on my way to work or to a friend’s house, and remember exactly how to get there, which streets to turn on, where the traffic lights are. Home is still so present in me, right in the forefront of my mind, right before my eyes.
Home is also people for me. I miss the bustle and routine of my house, and the loud family that occupies it. I miss watching Perry Mason with my dad while I bake cookies from scratch in a kitchen that is not occupied by freshman boys who trash it every time they cook. I miss the discussions we have around a dinner table heaped with home-cooked food, cutting each other off and going back and forth all at once. I also miss the friends I left, in order to have this experience. I miss the encompassing atmosphere good friends give me, where I feel like I can stutter and not be laughed at, or be as weird as I am and not feel like they think I am completely insane. I love that I can speak without fear and run about without worry of being judged. It is hard to find people and form a relationship as deep as that in such a short period of time, only to part ways once it is all complete.
I feel like, in some ways, I have been on my guard all these months because I don’t feel that safe atmosphere to be exactly who I am with the people I have met. This may also be because it is all in the back of everyone’s mind that this is not permanent and it will all end eventually. I feel this especially now, when it is the three-week mark. I’d describe how I feel, and how I think other people are feeling, as checked out. Knowing that you may never see someone again after this, or that you’d have to make an effort in order to keep in touch, causes this phenomenon. I don’t think it is something to hate or to try and get away from, I think it is being human. Effort, especially relational or emotional, can be hard to muster, and it is understandable why it is often brushed aside.
Despite this jumbled (and pretty negative) outlook, I did make good friends here. I slowly began to feel safe with them after some time and patience. I experienced the gift of travel to an even fuller extent: when it is shared between other people. I traveled to Saint Andrews and Aberdeen with Cat, and we will always have that memory between us, keeping us connected. I saw Belfast with Hannah, and we took a Black Cab tour together and learned about the religious intolerance of Northern Ireland, side by side. Morgan, Hannah and I all explored Dublin together, and I will always have those memories of us together, the places encircling the background.
I think I have often pointed out the difficulties of travel; the uglier, grittier parts that make me (and maybe you?) stop and question whether it is all worth it. And now, to answer the question that is always asked at the close of an era: Would you do anything differently?
No, I wouldn’t. To get here, where I am now, couldn’t have been reached by staying within the boundaries I set for myself. I had to move, be thrown off the edge in order to see myself, listen to myself, and know another part of the vast world we reside within. I’ll leave you with a quote, because beautiful words from far more talented people sound better than anything I could say:
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
Eventually, I’ll get another post up about my week in Ireland, as well as my upcoming long weekend in Sweden. I have one more trip planned for this experience: Greece. I’ll write again soon!