Preparing for my coming year abroad—fall semester in Lima, Peru and spring semester in Madrid, Spain—has been a whirlwind. The expected nervousness about packing, the language transition, and the reality of being away from my family and friends has set in. However, the process of getting ready to leave to study abroad is a bit different—abroad.
I’ve spent the last two and half months living and working in la Ciudad de Guatemala with a State Department internship, and I only have a week at home before I ship off to Lima. Carumba! I’m quite thankful for my summer in Guatemala, as I think it will ease the transition. I’ve been speaking Spanish all summer; I’m thrilled to again be around others my age, as I’m the youngest one at the embassy; I’ve traveled on weekends quite a bit and become more comfortable pushing myself outside of that comfort zone. The benefits may be present, but the doubts still remain.
I have the conversation so many times— “Why are you leaving for a whole year?” “Won’t you miss Bloomington?” “Isn’t that expensive?” and the hardest, “What do your parents think of all this traveling?” I truly believe that I have the best family, the most loving and supporting parents and sisters and aunts, uncles and cousins (and 91-year-old grandmother!) and I love them so much. I’m not trying to escape them—so why have I missed the past 3 of 4 family reunions in Missouri? Why do I spend half of Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks camping? Why am I away during so many breaks?
Why am I spending my junior year abroad?
I am so, so happy as a student at Indiana University—I can’t even begin to describe the contentment that really finding your niche at college can bring. I have the most amazing groups of friends and family at home. Why do I leave them? It’s really not fair that our ability to love people and places is infinite, but our ability to show that love through time and experiences is not.
Why do I go where I go? How do I deal with this privilege of being able to just hop on a plane? How can I separate the way that I view myself—as a college student who works and earned scholarships and takes the responsibility that comes with study abroad so seriously—with the way the world views people like me: White girls traveling to save the world. Study abroad girls gone wild. That’s not who I am. How can I let people who don’t know me understand that?
Travel is self-actualizing – it helps you ‘find yourself’. I hate to cling to clichés, but I find a certain amount of truth in sentiments like this. Traveling allows a freedom—a freedom from attaching myself to a certain country or city. Or language. Or name even. Fantastic things can happen when we let these labels fall.
One thing I’ve realized while traveling is that my heart has settled in so many places – the streets of Bloomington at sundown, the vibrant greens and blues of Indianapolis in May, the luscious and familiar rivers of North Carolina, the humble mountains and serene lakes of Central America.
One of my goals this year is to keep my heart and my head in the same place at the same time. It’s hard during these transition periods—am I more sad to be leaving or more happy to be seeing my family soon? Soon enough I’ll finally be settled in Lima, ready for the adventures of the coming semester.