It’s currently 11 pm on a Thursday night– I’m dancing around my room alone, waiting for my lava lamp to start doing its thing, listening to Willow’s album ‘Ardipithecus‘ (it’s prime for grooving, let me tell you) and I’m SUDDENLY mentally transported back to last semester, which I was privileged enough to spend in Bath, England. Cool how a few notes played in a certain order and a melodious human voice can throw you back in time, right? Music is the Universe’s gentle quarterback. I don’t know football metaphors, this ends now.
This teleportation didn’t take much space-time bending as I’ve only been home from my semester abroad for a few weeks. (I’m not going to figure out the exact number because thinking too much about the passage of time makes me feel like my face is melting off.) I discovered Willow’s album while making toast in England and spent many a sunny day sitting out in our house’s garden, listening to her songs instead of doing my class reading. Listening to ‘Wait a Minute’ instantly brought me back to the little patch of grass in our yard I had accidentally claimed as my own by sitting there so frequently, it became matted down in the shape of my body.
(Lil tidbit about toast, one of England’s finest delicacies: Victorian women were fed toast sandwiches and other bland foods because society thought that foods with strong flavor — or flavor at all, apparently — would turn them into IMMORAL, UNEARTHLY SEX FIENDS. That’d make a cool band name if anyone wants it. So would Toast Sandwich, actually. I had a “band” in third grade called ‘Secrets Unleashed’ so I’m absolutely an authority on all things Cool.)
ANYWAY, the actual point of this blog post is to talk about my semester abroad. Now, I get it — the internet is INUNDATED with college students’ posts about studying abroad. (If anyone’s looking for a fun new hobby, calculating what percentage of the internet is comprised of those blog posts might be a nifty one to try out.) But guess what, all of our lives are just a blink of Time’s eye anyway so let me have my moment.
I never thought I was the type of person who goes abroad. I don’t… exactly know… what I mean by that but I think it connects to the fact that sometimes I forget I’m like, an actual participant in life. I get so wrapped up in my friends’ lives, feeling happy for them or excited for them or sad for them that I rarely think oh, shit, I’m a human too and I can and need to have my own experiences.
As a socially anxious introvert, I’ve spent much of my life on the sidelines, observing. I don’t think that it’s a bad thing, I feel I’ve learned a lot about human nature, about myself, about sympathy by doing so. There’s a beauty — and necessity, I’d argue — in observation, but over the past year I’ve begun to recognize how crucial it is to be active in my own life. I’m not going to feel fulfilled by attempting to exist through someone else’s.
I’m not trying to say that living in England for four months suddenly made me want to Live Life To Its Fullest!!!! and Cherish Every Moment!!!!!! (I mean…. it lowkey did… but that’s not the point here….). I think studying abroad was not the cause, but the effect of me deciding that even though I may bumble my way through life surrounding by a luminous halo of anxiety and stress, it doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to have my own experiences.
There’s two parts of me that are usually at odds with each other — one part, the part riddled with anxiety, craves the safe and familiar while the other part often feels stifled and needs change. Somehow the second part was able to convince the first part in gentle, hushed tones that I could use a change of scenery after two and a half years in my little Boston bubble.
I am endlessly grateful that it did. Like most things, my time abroad was both exponentially better than I could’ve ever imagined and harder than I could’ve ever pictured. I’ve found that you rarely feel how you think you’re going to feel when thrown into a situation. I guess that’s a good thing, otherwise we could all just stay in a dark, damp hovel somewhere and just imagine going through life. (Although who’s to say that’s not what I’m doing right now and I just became so good at it I forgot I ever started. UH.)
I’ve also found out that I’m better at handling situations than I give myself credit for. Before my flight to England, I had never traveled alone. (It’s still weird that, me, a giant infant, is allowed to go into a metal contraption by myself and be transported across the globe.) I have now done so multiple times and am now safe and sound in my house (or just imagining I am from my hovel but it’s fine, I guess). I can navigate stressful situations when I need to, apparently. Good to know.
Along with this, I found I am capable of making strong, meaningful connections without someone holding my hand along the way. Back in 2013, one of my best friends Isabel and I ended up going to the same college. We knew that we didn’t want to be glued to each other’s side our freshman year, and we weren’t, but we ended up in the same circle of friends. (Mostly because Isabel made friends I kind of just… tagged along for the ride.) I have since made my own, individual strong bond with said group of friends but I was still anxious as hell about having to make my own initial connections with people while studying abroad since all of my other friends I made during like, middle school or earlier.
In a surprise twist no one expected, I still retain the ability to make new friends. I’m sure my preschool teacher would be glad I haven’t lost this basic life skill. Months before I left, when I was planning my flight home with my mom, she asked if I cared if I came home a day earlier than my program suggested. I remember thinking, “I’m sure the last day is when everyone is going to be saying goodbye to their friends and that’ll just be a bummer for me since I won’t have made any.”
(WOW ok, I’m realizing how sad and pathetic that sounds/ that people on the internet are actually going to read this… I’m trying to be honest and connect emotionally with y’all…. just let it happen….)
I didn’t end up flying home a day early because it was cheaper not to. In my last 24 hours in Bath I: 1.) had to pack up four months of things and evacuate my house because of a undetonated World War II bomb found under a nearby playground 2.) sat in a circle of intelligent, interesting, hilarious people I somehow duped into becoming my friends, where we went around and said genuine nice things about each other in a park until 1 am.
(Neither of those things would’ve been on my list of ‘300 Ways I Probably Will Spend My Last Day Abroad.’)
It was such a pure moment, I highly recommend you do this with your group of friends. I think we shrink away from giving heartfelt compliments in everyday life because it’s cheesy and puts us in a vulnerable position, but it’s important and you’ll be glad you did it. You’ll never regret saying something kind.
Most of us were crying, all of us were gut-wrenchingly sad. We knew it wasn’t going to be the last time we would be all together, but it was the last time we would all be together like that.
As we were saying goodbye to Bath Abbey — the beautiful church in the city’s center we passed by everyday — I just kept thinking, “all good things must come to an end.” As much as endings and goodbyes SUCK, they’re necessary. Good things aren’t meant to last forever. If a good thing goes on for too long, then it usually turns sour and you’re left with a bitter taste about the entire thing. Four months is just a sliver of time, but that’s okay — things don’t have to linger to be important.
I have a lot more to say, but I think I’m going to end this here. And in grand Cara tradition, I’m going to end with a dog video. It’s another instant classic my mom found on Facebook. Bless.
(Shout out 2 Chloe for using your overpriced polaroid film on us and to @elizabethdoud for the snappy blog title, I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment and didn’t change all my social media usernames to it… I gotta maintain #brand #integrity ya feel? )