As I sit in my bed staring at the two massive suitcases lying open on my bedroom floor, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed. When I first applied and was accepted to study abroad in Barcelona, I felt as though it would be decades until it was time to leave. Now, I can’t believe that in just four short and busy days I will be boarding a plane to bring me to my new home for three and a half months. I look at my beloved dogs and my feisty cat, and I ask myself how I can I leave them for so long. I suppose my human family members are important too; I will miss them as well. Thinking of all the people I must leave behind makes me less excited to embark on this adventure, but I know that in order to grow during this experience I must abandon my community and beliefs.
During the winter months, my dad will occasionally build a fire in the fireplace for the family to enjoy. Two nights ago my parents, my sister, and I were lounging by one of these fires, with everyone coexisting in peace. I decided to take advantage of this situation, because peaceful family gatherings are rare to come by in the Marino household. I read my letter of separation to my family, including the quotation by author Terry Pratchett, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” I thought this quotation really portrayed to my family – to my parents especially – that I wasn’t just going to Barcelona for three and a half months of partying and vacation. I am studying abroad to have fun of course, but to also become educated in a way that will help me grow. At first, my parents thought it was a bit peculiar that I was reading this letter to them. After I explained what the letter was, my family was very supportive and understanding of the separation that needs to take place. They showed me support by telling me that they want to keep in touch to know I am safe, but they promised not to constantly contact me to hear about and critique my experiences.
At this point, I do feel ready to separate from everything I know. Although I am a creature of habit, I am usually open to trying new things. It seems as though one person can’t be both, but I find that I have a comfort zone that I am willing to step out of. The only thing I am worried about holding me back are my friends at home. They have shown me they accept my journey with farewell parties and dinners. However, I do plan to keep in contact with them while abroad, and I fear that hearing about what is going on at home will make me miss it.
For me, a successful experience abroad would be experiencing as many cultures as possible, and learning how to integrate those cultures into the new me that returns to Connecticut. While I am excited to learn Spanish culture in Barcelona, I think it would be a shame to leave Europe without immersing myself in as many different cultures as possible. Of course, this will require a lot of traveling and being aware of my surroundings. I need to pay attention to the local customs and not just the tourist sites that will draw my attention. I think this will be one of the challenges I face while abroad. It is easy to get caught up in the tourist attractions without paying attention to the real rich culture that is a little harder to find. To tackle this challenge I will have to be aware of my surroundings, and diligent in looking beyond the main attractions. Another potential challenge I could encounter is with my new roommates. It’s possible I could be living with students from other countries, and it would be wonderful to be exposed to even more diversity through them.
I chose to take a picture of my suitcase that is in the process of being filled because it represents preparation. Everything up until this point has been preparation. I’ve been preparing both mentally and physically for this adventure for what feels like forever. Just like packing a suitcase, I have been gathering all my thoughts, values, and beliefs and putting them in a box that I will tuck away in the back of my mind. I am preparing for my journey by making space for all the new experiences that are coming my way.
Pratchett, T. (2004). Quotes About Travel. Retrieved January 06, 2017, from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/travel