Packing for a long trip is a bit like one of those painful getting-to-know-you questions in which I have to describe myself in five words or fewer. There are many things that I would really like to include: the fact that my favorite color is orange, or that I eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches crust first, or that I slip into a British accent when doing math homework, to name a few. All of these are facts that may help somebody understand me, but when forced to narrow it down to five words I always go with the tried and true, “Smart, Funny, Incredibly Good Looking.” Given a sixth word I go with “Humble.” And so when I am packing, I am forced to include only my best and most useful items. Even for a guy like me, whose wardrobe probably wouldn’t clothe more than the first class section on a small plane at one time, I feel a bit like Bob Dylan must have felt when trying to put together a greatest hits album. But nonetheless the fifty best pounds of my greatest hits are compressed into one poor suitcase, with the lucky survivors of the ordeal finding legroom in my backpack. And so I rack my brain for any last minute additions, tiring myself out for the overnight flight that awaits, running upstairs and downstairs and back upstairs enough times that, put end to end, my trips upstairs alone might put me at cruising altitude. My parents are always encouraging me to do another sweep of the house, as the memory lingers in their mind of the infamous black suitcase that spent the family ski trip perched at the top of the stairs. Eventually, though, I will cast off all fears of forgetting something as my jelly legs plop down in the window seat for what will be the longest plane ride of my life.
Although I have spent months planning for the semester, applying for permits, and reading urgent emails from advisors, a part of me still feels that there is a small chance that I may arrive in the Netherlands only to find nothing, and realize that my academic advisors and other contacts are paid actors and I have been the subject of some Truman Show entertainment. This feeling just confirms, however, that I am adventuring well outside the realm of the routine. I didn’t choose to go abroad to recreate the comforts of home, but to escape them and venture out into the unknown, as the first rugged explorers of the New World might have, had they had student visas and airplanes and been afflicted with dysentery less often. And so off I trek with suitcases, vague expectations, and without dysentery to a place that I will have the pleasure of getting to know beyond a five word description.