Preparing to go to abroad for a year has been marked by so many experiences already, like the absurd hassle that is a Spanish visa, the endless appointments, and addressing my lists of “must buy” and “must get rid of” before packing. But one thing that keeps cropping up again and again is every conversation I’ve had about going abroad, which have mostly gone about the same way:
Me: I’m studying abroad next year.
Acquaintance: Oh my gosh, that’ll be amazing! I’m so jealous. You’re going to have such a great time. Make sure you visit ______ while you’re over there.
Me: Yeah, I’m really excited, thanks!
Acquaintance: When do you leave?
Me: August 26th.
Acquaintance: That’s coming up fast!
Me: I don’t want to talk about it.
Every time I have these conversations, when we approach the “when you’re leaving” part, my mind tries to go blank in every effort to avoid the emotional impact of leaving. Starting new, breaking routine, and leaving people I depend on has always taken a huge toll on me (because I’m a lumpy mess of tears and sentimentality once you get past the bitter exterior). I know that once I’m three months into my year abroad, I’ll be past the difficult part and having an incredible time, but as of right now all I see is the gray space between now and then.
Until recently, my strategy was to focus on what I’m doing in the moment and not prepare emotionally for the future. That sort of crashed and burned, and now I’m reaching the point where I have to start saying final goodbyes to people for the next year. I moved out of Madison back to Minneapolis last week, so goodbyes have begun and won’t end until I leave for the airport next Wednesday.
The last time I was experiencing endless rounds of similar conversations and goodbyes, I was moving from Minneapolis to Madison for college. But that was different: I was ready for new people and adventures, and everyone else was leaving for a similar reason. Of course, there was the lack of culture shock, unless you count alcohol appearing in every gas station and grocery store as culture shock. Regardless, there was a similar feeling of in-betweenness and sometimes overwhelming emotion of starting over, the conversations pre-departure about where I was going, what I would be studying, etc. And just like two years ago, when I was terrified of adjusting of a new place, I will start my year abroad way out of my comfort zone and gradually fall in love with Madrid and the people I meet there (I hope). That’s largely why I wanted to keep this blog; I want to track and process acclimating to a foreign country, and I want other people to process it with me.
Amidst all the feelings I’ve been forced to deal with in the face of leaving, there’s the speculating of what things will be like when I get back — too far in advance to be practical to consider, but here I am, thinking about where I might want to live senior year. Visualizing myself abroad used to be fun and seemed so distant, and the switch from that distance to the reality of the upcoming weeks has been difficult, but I’m getting better at it. This whole summer has felt transitional as I’ve split my time between Madison, Minneapolis, and camp. Now I’m in the dog days of August, in the weird liminality of the known and the unknown. The only thing I can do is board a plane and see what happens.