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Study Abroad

Things I Want to Take Home

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” –Paul Theroux

Friends, this is my last post before I leave for home. (If you remember that I used this quote to start my last post before I left for Spain, ten points to your Hogwarts house. If you’re not sure which Hogwarts house you are in, just give those points to Gryffindor. Gryffindor is the fucking best.)

I could write a novel on the feelings that come with the end of a semester abroad. It is outrageously hard to put all of this into words. I can’t wait to get home but I know that going home means the end. The end of this adventure, the end of being this specific kind of uncomfortable, the end of Spanish in the streets and bread at every meal and weekend trips with the same fifteen people. It feels just as surreal as the beginning.

I still don’t really know where I’m going—although Julie and my parents will tell you that I can read a map now, which is a pretty big step up from getting lost on the UNH campus in December—but I do know where I’ve been. Giant snowy mountains and quiet rose gardens. Tiny crooked towns and big loud cities. Airplanes and trains and holy shit, so many buses. I’ve been on such an adventure. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that a week from now, I’ll be back in New Hampshire, eating familiar foods and doing familiar things. There’s a sadness and a profound happiness in that.

Things I Want to Take Home:

Tranquila. Take it easy. No pasa nada.

Silliness. You’re going to make mistakes. (Don’t forget to laugh.)

Humility. The world is bigger than you.

Endurance. You can go further than you think. Don’t build barriers in your head.

Friendship. Family and friends, new and old. Remember the little things.

Patience. You’ll figure it out.

Confidence. You’ve figured it out before.

Adventure. There’s always more to explore.

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I have no idea how to conclude this. There’s too much to describe and all of it sounds like a record of clichés on repeat. But there is one more thing I want to tell you about.

Twelve of my friends and I took a trip to Rome last weekend. We got lost on the outskirts of the city as a group of thirteen, and working together to figure out where we needed to go felt like some weird and hilarious reality TV challenge. We drank a lot of wine. We cancelled the reservations for our last night at the hostel before realizing that the airport didn’t open until 4:30am and the hostel only let us sit in their lounge until 11:30pm. “We are so much more homeless in Rome than Julie was,” several of my friends muttered as we sat on a safe-ish stoop outside and waited for time to pass.

It was an absolute logistical nightmare.

It was physically miserable.

It was fun.

I wouldn’t have expected the semester to end any other way.

#hannahandjulieabroad

(See below for the story in pictures.)

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We fought for our lives to get onto the bus from the airport to the city, and then we swarmed a lot of other places. Traveling in a group of thirteen is like drinking an entire gallon of milk in one sitting – I’m glad we did it for the story, but I probably wouldn’t do it again or recommend it to friends with certain health conditions.

I took a solo trip to visit my sweet friend Pooja in Florence for a day. (The guy we asked to take our picture never took his thumb off the lens.)

 

Our thirteen-pack split up for some touring back in Rome, and we saw some super old things.

 

Then came the longest day that has ever been. It was my 21st birthday, but that was probably the least interesting thing that happened. First we got group-lost.

We eventually found the wrong catacombs, then the right catacombs. I tried to take pictures inside but a bald guy yelled at me. He wasn’t even the guide.

Later that night, we went out to dinner for my birthday, and my friend Jeremy bought a selfie stick.

Then came the homelessness.

We eventually got ourselves to the airport, then to the bus station, then home.

It was an adventure and a half, guys. We made it.

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Sleepless in Scotland

There’s nothing quite like the surge of nostalgia you get when you realize you’re doing something for the last time. You’re sitting in a booth of your favorite pub surrounded by everyone who means a lot to you, and it hits you that this is the last time that these people will all gather together in this place. You walk down the hill towards the center of town and the knowledge that your trips down this street are limited sits heavy in your heart. You’re at dinner one night and some asshat decides to remind everyone that, guys, this time next week we’ll all be gone and never see each other again! (Looking at you, Zach.)

I’m a very nostalgic person. Hann knows this. She makes fun of me for saving notes and doodles we find as we clean out our desks every year. My family knows it. Hopefully Meg knows it too, because she’s the one who’s going to be dealing with me on my last day in Ireland when I’m sniffling quietly into my pint in the corner of a pub.

Last week Hannah talked to you guys about the feeling anxiousness to get home. I was there a few weeks ago. After the semester-long build up to spring break that coincided with end of classes, it felt like this whole thing was over. I’d done my European adventure. I’d seen Hann. I’d been done with classes for almost a month, so it felt like all that was left to do was go home. I spent hours every day fantasizing about hugging my family in the airport and catching up with friends.

I wanted a fast-forward button.

I blinked, though, and May crept up on me. We’ve entered the beginning of lasts and goodbyes. The last trip we’ll take all together, the last time we’ll cook a family dinner in the kitchen of our apartment, the last cider we’ll sneak into a bar and chug in the bathroom. The lulls in conversation are charged with an awareness that all of this is temporary, and we all look around at each other with big, sad eyes.

All of a sudden I want a rewind button.

I know how foolish it is to wish something this awesome away. It’s almost as foolish as getting so caught up in the nostalgia of leaving that you don’t enjoy the time you have left. Just like every other part of this trip, it’s been a challenge to stay completely in the moment. During my first month I checked the calendar every day, hoping that all of a sudden it would jump a lot closer to the day I got to go home. I spent the weekdays waiting for Friday when I got to hop on a bus and explore a new town in Ireland. Now I’m wincing as the days pass too quickly and the “lasts” start to roll by.

I get a familiar flutter of panic when I realize I’m not truly “living in the moment” as much as I could be. I hear the voices of study-abroad veterans and family friends in my head. Enjoy it while it lasts, every minute of it. If I’m not enjoying what’s right around me all the time, am I doing it wrong? This is something that Hannah and I questioned a lot when we got here, and something we still question pretty much constantly all the time.

I don’t think we’re doing it wrong at all. We realized during one of our Facetime-deep-conversations that perspectives and emotions aren’t black and white. They weren’t at home, and they aren’t here. You can be sitting on a bench in Rome with a cup of gelato in your hands and be in awe of what you’re seeing and feel like you want to curl up in a ball and roll all the way home at the same time. You can be anxious to get home and ready to stay forever at the same time. You can be appreciative and present and homesick and happy and exhausted. A lot of the time you are, actually. That’s not wrong. It’s about time I realized it.

These past two weekends, my friends and I took our last ever trips together as a group. Both involved three-hour bus rides to Dublin in the middle of the night, and no sleep. They were physically draining, but we made every second count. Meg comes out to visit me in exactly one week, and I could not be more excited.

  

Wound up in the National Museum of Scotland after about 30 hours of no sleep, so of course this happened.

   Optical illusions!

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Jumping the Rut

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you feel comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” -Clifton Fadiman

My second week in Spain, I decided to travel from Granada to Madrid to spend a few days with my cousin Kristina. (For those of you who have been reading for a while, you might remember Kristina as the friend who can run way faster than me and brought me to a ball in Washington D.C. one time.) Kristina has been kicking ass studying in Madrid since September, so she offered to lead me around the country’s capital for a weekend and give me a few hugs. (Two weeks into a semester in a new country with a new language and new people, I was really looking forward to the hugs.)

This was my first big travel adventure of the semester, and Kristina helped me plan the whole thing out. I had to wake up at 6:30 to be at the bus stop by my house at 7, where I’d take a city bus to the big Estación de Autobuses at the other end of town. Then I’d get on another bus to Madrid, and when I got to the city five hours later, I’d hop on the metro and get off at the Manuel Becerra stop to meet up with Kristina and head to her apartment. The plan seemed straightforward enough.

The night before I left, I had a dream that the bus to Madrid was leaving without me. The bus had a platform, like a train, and a woman with a short, no-nonsense haircut told me that my ticket wasn’t valid. The glass sliding doors of the bus-train began to close and it started to chug away. No! I was determined to get on that bus-train. Somehow I knew that if I didn’t make it on this one there would never be another way to get to Madrid, and then all of my hopes and dreams would be destroyed, and then I’d die. Not getting on the train was not an option.

In the dream, I took a few steps back, adjusted my backpack, and jumped the platform onto the moving bus-train as the doors were still closing. The woman with the no-nonsense haircut yelled something, and there was a big crash. In real life, I dove out of my bed and onto the cold tile floor. I woke up when I hit the ground, completely disoriented. Holy shit. Maybe I was more anxious about this trip than I realized.

The morning of my viaje, everything almost went smoothly. I forgot to pay when I boarded the city bus—probably the result of months of free bus rides with my UNH ID—and when the driver called me to the front to pay my 1.20€, I didn’t have any coins in my wallet. Turns out the bus only accepts coins. The driver told me to get off at the next stop, make change somewhere, and then get back on the next bus. At least I think that’s what he said. My Spanish was still pretty weak at the time.

So I hopped off the bus and found myself alone on a deserted street in the middle of a Spanish city. In late January, 7am Spanish time looks a lot like 4am American time. The sky was still dark. Absolutely nothing was open. I didn’t even know which street I was on. The bus left, and everything went eerily quiet. Holy crap holy crap holy crap, I thought, choosing a random direction to walk in. Alright, Hann, stay calm. Just find somewhere to make change. No big deal.

I found a 24-hour Pharmacy five or ten minutes later, and I knew it was open because its medical-cross sign blinked green above the door. Hallelujah! But even the 24-hour Pharmacy looked like it wasn’t into the 7am-wake-up-call, and there was a locked gate in front of the door. I rang the doorbell and shook the gate until the man in the white lab coat—I could see him in there, and I knew he could see me too, goddammit—took pity on me and came to ask what I wanted. I begged in sub-par Spanish for change. Cambio, por favor! He agreed to break my 20€ if I bought a pack of chicles. I have never been so happy to buy a pack of shitty strawberry gum.

I finally made it onto the city bus with change jangling in my pocket, and I was still early for my big bus ride to Madrid. Kristina and I found each other on the Spanish metro no problem. She gave me lots of hugs and fed me well and took me clubbing in the city to show me that I could. It was awesome. I had survived my first big adventure!

 

Looking back, it’s hard to believe I was so nervous about that bus ride. I love using the Spanish bus system now. I know exactly how to order my ticket online (with PayPal, always with PayPal), I wake up excited for my trips, I chat with the older Spanish ladies in the seat next to me who want to visit New York someday. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about that first trip to Madrid.

For the last couple weeks, it feels like I’ve been in a bit of a rut. I’m homesick, guys. I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. I’ve been here for three and a half months. I’ve figured out the bus system and I’ve flown internationally by myself, twice. I can actually understand Spanish now (most of the time, at least). I thought I’d be at maximum comfort level by now—hitting my stride, watching the days fly by, maybe having a brief yet passionate love affair with a handsome local. I figured the last month of my study abroad experience would be exactly how study-abroad-veterans describe the whole semester: Amazing. Incredible. I would probably give my left arm to go back there.

Don’t get me wrong—so much of this semester has been amazing and incredible and worth giving a left arm for. But lately I’ve found myself wishing time away. I want to get back to my own bed and my own restaurants and my own language. I want to feel comfortable again. I feel homesick and then I feel guilty. How could I think those things when I’m lucky enough to be living in Spain and traveling every weekend? How could I want to go home when I know an adventure like this is probably never going to happen again?

I’m writing this because I have a lot of friends—both old and new—living study-abroad adventures right now. We’re spread out on different continents and eating different foods and speaking different languages, but from the conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks, it seems like a surprising number of us are feeling the same way. This is the final stretch. We’ve been uncomfortable for a long ass time. We’re close to going home, but not close enough to feel nostalgic quite yet. We might just be in a rut.

And friends, if any of you are reading this, it’s okay. It is okay. We can cry and laugh and get angry and anxious and homesick. We can stumble over our words even though we’ve been immersed in this culture for three and a half months, goddammit, and we’d hoped we’d be knock-your-socks-off-fluent by now. We can do this.

I often think of how I felt on that deserted street in late January. (I now know that the street was Camino de Ronda, and it is one of the largest and most centrally located calles in Granada.) It was terrifying, and I was pretty close to frantic, but underneath that fear there was something else too. Excitement. Courage. Adventure. Knowing that I was in charge of what came next. Feeling blind and unsure, but also confident that I could figure it out. I would figure it out. That’s the only option.

My family came to visit me in Granada this week. A piece of home came to me just when I was missing it most. (That same piece of home can’t really speak Spanish, tried to drive a rental car in world’s most un-driveable Spanish neighborhood, and locked a piece of luggage in that same rental car at the airport before their flight home, but those are all stories for another time.) Friends, I know most of you still have a few more weeks to go before your parents hug you too hard at the airport, but I think we can consider this our reset button. Today. Right now. These words, if they help.

There’s fear and anxiety and discomfort here, but there’s so much more, too. There’s the feeling that you get staring out at the sunset through your bus window, like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. You can feel it growing giddy in your chest. This is it. I am here. This is the adventure. If you stretched out your hands, your fingertips could touch around the earth.

#hannahandjulieabroad

Hiking in Monachil, Granada. My mom grimaced all the way across that rickety bridge. (She didn’t want to cross it at all, but we called her a chicken. Works every time.)

We did some (legal) family drinking.

“Hey guys, this is the two-way street we tried to drive the rental car through!”

Mom, Dad, Sar, and Kissy – thanks for the week of adventures! Love you guys more than Milka.

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