On the first of August I am going somewhere else. I am getting on a plane and leaving this town, then I will leave the next town, and the next town, and the next town. I’ll be a moving target until September, at which point I will hopefully continue to be a moving target, but only on three-day weekends. A stationary moving target. I’m spending next semester abroad, and while I want to travel loads and see everything, I also want to learn how to live somewhere else. I want to be as much of an inhabitant, a native, of somewhere else as possible. That probably entails learning how to make that throaty ‘r’ sound that apparently every European language requires and is also impossible. Damn.
Who can even do this. Honestly.
I’m starting in London, at a two week Great Book course. It’s going to be incredible, and if I’m perfectly honest, the reality of it hasn’t actually sunk in yet. The material we’re covering and the events of the program are actually incredible; I don’t know if I’ll really be able to grasp it until I’m physically there. The idea that I will be living and hopefully existing as a functional human being in London for two weeks—buying meals, studying, pretending this is normal life for me and just generally trying very hard to seem cool and well-traveled already and not a dorky American tourist with a fanny pack and a visor and a Hawaiian shirt. “Um hello can you direct me towards the nearest red telephone booth so I can take the obligatory ‘look at me I’m in ENGLAND’ photo please and thanks.” (As a disclaimer, I am definitely going to take that photo. Just hopefully when nobody else is around.)
After that, I’m off to my one true love.
I’m incredibly excited and yet also terrified about going to Oxford because I feel like I’m meeting up with some guy I met online who I think is great but who could turn out to be awful, or a serial killer, or just not what I expected. The flip side of this is that it could be amazing and beautiful and everything I’ve ever dreamed—and then I’ll have to leave it and what if I never come back shock horror my life is over. Except I’m going back at the end of the semester, but that doesn’t count it’s not the same unless I am enrolled at the university (I need to quit being Salinger here and get back to writing normally). Funnily enough, a lot of this is how I felt meeting up with my best friend, who I met online and happens to live in Oxford. (Is this irony? I don’t know, I’m a failure of a lit major.) However, much like when my best friend came to visit, it was better than I’d expected and hard to leave but I was better for having had the experience. And I knew and knowing was good. Knowing is underrated. I am really looking forward to this leg of the trip.
Finally, I’m settling in Florence, Italy. I feel like I need to put a picture in now so it doesn’t feel left out. Florence really is a beautiful city, and I have heard nothing but beautiful things about it. I’m spending my semester here: eighty-eight days. I want to feel the blood of this city in my own veins. I want to know the culture, the ins and outs, what’s happening where and the quiet places and the busy places and how the cogs of the city all turn. I want to hang my laundry on a line out the window and choke on bitter espresso after dinner pretending I’m a natural at being Italian—practicing my sprezzatura. I want to travel a lot while I’m in Europe; hopefully I’ll have the opportunity again, but there’s a chance I won’t, so I want to make the most of it. On the other hand, I want to live somewhere. I want to settle and be a native. I want to not be a tourist. I can hopefully do that in Florence.
I don’t want to be the cliché protagonist of a Disney Channel Original Movie and say that now that I’m finally getting the adventure and travel I’ve always yearned for that “my life is finally starting”. It isn’t—my life is now. I’m living it. But I do hope studying abroad changes me. I don’t want to come back stateside in November and be exactly the same. To be fair, though, studying in flipping Kansas changed me and Kansas is hardly London or Oxford or Florence or even a big, cultural American city. Every part of your life changes you—it’s just the way that it’s able to given its set of circumstances, and how you choose to react and grow in those circumstances. Even so, you don’t ever become an entirely new person. You still struggle with the same struggles—maybe even more so, in my case—but your perspective is different on the other side of it. So what can I expect to change? What do I want to change?
Really I just want to be comfortable and happy with myself, but I don’t think that secret will be found in Europe, because it’s a secret I already know. It’s just something I need to practice. Having the requisite number of artsy travel photos in my Instagram isn’t going to teach me how to love myself—not on their own. But hopefully the experience as a whole—being independent in a foreign country, getting into the things I’m passionate about, not worrying so much about myself and focusing on the people and culture around me—will show me what’s important and how I fit into my own world. So, perspective? Is that all it is, like I said earlier? I guess so. I want the ability to stop thinking about myself through a critical lens. Confidence comes from forgetting yourself. Going abroad is overwhelming—maybe it will force me to stop looking at myself and start looking around.
But I know just going to Europe isn’t going to hand me confidence on a silver platter. Hopefully it will give me the opportunity to grow, but I think realistically what I should hope for is to learn new things and meet new people and honestly, I’m so excited for that.
p.s. the last time I was a native of somewhere else—me & Max, little Brits. It’s been too long.