Awry Plans & Flexible Minds

The next three months will be wrapped in the hazy, warm charm of summer, and there is finally room to breathe. With exams over, second year of university demands a short summary, especially given that it has not been the brightest of academic years. These things happen. I wrote some bad essays and missed a fair few lectures. There were endless new ‘hobbies’ I took on as means of distraction, losing track of threads along the way. I did, however, make great friends, as well as amassing an obscene amount of books that will probably make my dad curse me when the time comes to move all the possessions back in his somewhat compact car.

Regardless of the disappointing performance, I am still pretty pleased with myself for reaching the finishing line. Being on a four year course, I have an incorporated break to look forward to, sort of. I say sort of because it is still an academic year, only abroad. Compulsory travelling as part of the course was a notion to boast of. For a while I charted Chile and St Petersburg as the dream, the go-to places; they were mine. The promised adventure! Chile, because I was smitten with the allure of its wilderness, and St Petersburg because of its universal acclaim. Then reality decided to shoot blind arrows into a map, swoosh one into Spain and the other to Siberia, but the current plan suits me even better. Spain is close(er) to home, and Salamanca quaint and inviting. (Google ‘Salamanca library’, seriously.) Having lived near Madrid for a month last summer, Spain will feel less intimidating than Santiago. Russia is my wild card, and Tomsk is painting itself to be a fabulous kingdom of birch trees and ice, the coveted nature’s playground.

I can play dress up, pretend I am the snow queen, or bake like a lizard in the heat. I am an expert chameleon but there will be no personality transplant, just new clothes. Recall your first day in nursery?  You are bouncy with excitement, terrified for being left on your own for the first time, but also stuck with infantile language, little and vulnerable. What’s more, you’re 4,165.2 miles away from home. Loneliness will loom uninvited (although everyone tacitly accepts that it was inevitably going to crash the party). It is not just a matter of location though; all that I am used to will be knocked away as in a game of marbles or snooker, dispersing and disappearing. In short, I will miss everything one misses when they miss home. The commodity of one’s bookshelf, favourite spot on the settee, and friends within reach of a hug will be displaced by strange and empty rooms.

The original plan was to focus on the anticipation for the journey. I feel obliged to apologise for fearmongering home-sickness to my fellow language students, but I know my apprehensions ring familiar with everyone else facing the prospect of going away. As much as I cannot deny the niggling fright, I hold equally strong underlying hope for truly fantastic experiences. A note to self then, and others, is to engage and not become a hermit: dive head first. Reminding oneself of first-time trials is a good way to envisage year abroad because it is not likely to be a seamless transition. Be it learning to ride a bike or learning to swim, it is worth remembering the accompanying sense of novelty. Much like being taken swimming for the first time, it can be traumatic. My knees shook and my face was rasped from having rubbed it for over an hour as I wept and my nose ran pitifully. “Oh will you jump already?” My dad was patient but I was stubborn. “We are not going home until you jump.” I was seven and I could keep afloat but I dared not jump into the abyss of the pool. The jaws theme tune played over in my head and I made a scene of myself, wailing, until one of the life guards gave me a gentle push that I mistook for a pat of consolation. Not the best way to teach a child but it worked. I fell, I flopped, it hurt but I resurfaced with a love for water that led to training twice a day, before and after school and competitions at weekends.

One may think facing new challenges is a daily struggle, but people do not appreciate how much of a big deal moving really is. Reducing the helplessness to first-time childhood experiences aptly puts the mixed feelings into perspective. It took my parents some time to come to terms with my choice. My mum was horror struck when I announced my destination and concluded with a dramatic outburst of ‘you will freeze.’ Salamanca doesn’t seem to be causing too much worry and people have already booked in to visit, despite not having settled anything with regards to my own accommodation. August still feels far out of reach.

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