Tuesday, July 22, 2014

how lucky i am

"how lucky i am to have something
that makes saying goodbye so hard."
--winnie the pooh

whenever people tell you why you should study abroad, they tell you the good things.
they tell you that you'll learn about yourself, that you'll speak a new language and adjust to a new culture.

but what they don't tell you is that it hurts.

sure, it hurts to be away from home and to bite the dust in language and to constantly embarrass yourself in foreign etiquette. that's normal. but it's not that bad.

what hurts is the missing. the countdown of days. the awareness that you will be both returning home and leaving home at the same time, the feeling of constantly saying goodbye, the knowledge that your year is about to end.

it is unpredictable, because it creeps up on you at strange times -- in math class, or lying awake at night, or walking through a crowded city street --  and it makes you frustrated, because you don't understand. you don't see how in less than 12 months, one can fall in love... not with a person or a thing, but with an entire country... and you are upset at yourself for not seeing it earlier. for not, somehow, avoiding this ache.

and yet you ask yourself if you would give up this year, this crazy tangled beautiful mess of a year full of excitement and disappointment and learning about yourself and making stupid mistakes and overdramatizing and having heart-to-heart talks and traveling and making memories and dreaming bigger than you've ever dreamed in your entire life...
no, you wouldn't. not really.

and because your goodbyes hurt,
because the thought of leaving is painful,
because this is so hard,

you realize
how lucky you really are.

an open letter to the newbies

dear newbies:

congratulations on being the luckiest kids in the world. you are about to have what will probably be the most memorable year of your life so far.
do not underestimate the importance of spontaneity and simply enjoying your life here. but, in the event that you WOULD like advice, here are some things to remember...

us as newbies!
1. don't stress.
but seriously, don't. one, it isn't worth your time, and two, sometimes it's better to just enjoy the moment. the year will be over before you know it. prioritize, yes, and figure out what you're looking for in your exchange year, yes. but take a couple minutes every so often to breathe and laugh and realize the complete beauty and total ridiculousness of you being in another country.
i regret not figuring out that sometimes, i should just take life as it happened to me. (chill out, by the way, Past Hannah. you're stressing out too much to be healthy.) and that sometimes, your exchange will hold lovely surprises. the key isn't to prepare wildly, the key is to welcome them in and stop complaining.

which is another point...

2. if you have an issue, figure it out. make yourself heard.
you will be on your own for a lot of this year, and you will be required to deal with your own problems sometimes. if you can't, you need to communicate that you can't... clearly. your host parents are wonderful, but there are times when you just need to raise your voice and let them know that there IS a blocked bathtub turning the downstairs washroom into a swimming pool, and can they please help you with it NOW?

farewell weekend for OUR oldies
other times you will be required to take control of your own issues and solve them. if you are not already, you will probably become good at a) reading maps in foreign languages or b) navigating the transit system better than the locals do or c) getting lost in large cities and enjoying it. possibly all three!

but there are other times when the problem just can't be fixed. which means that,

3. sometimes, you need to shut up and deal with it.
this doesn't mean staying silent in the face of evil. this just means that sometimes, you will get so caught up in what's wrong with your exchange that you don't realize the obvious: you're on exchange, and that's wonderful! be grateful, duh.
also, the food is delicious. i don't care what you think of it now. it's delicious. and you WILL miss it when you get back to your home country, so make the most of your opportunities now. this applies to other things, not just food: language, culture, travel... stop complaining and work on enjoying life.

newbies and oldies-- exchange is a family
 4. invest in things that last.
make friendships. get to know people who come from different states and countries and continents. because you know what? you didn't come on exchange to be comfortable. anyone can stay home and be comfortable. you came to grow, and that takes guts.
so don't undermine that by staying inside your comfort zone.
 i have met some of the most brilliant and talented and fun people on exchange, and it blows my mind to think that i call them friends. so go. enjoy the world. there is life outside your front door, i promise.

5. ignore this.
well, don't ignore it completely. but do realize that this is a very limited amount of advice coming from a still-more-limited source, and that every exchange is different. my counsel might be completely wrong for your exchange, and that's fine.
know yourself, and question yourself, and feel free to disregard things that aren't right for you. but mostly, remember that you're ON EXCHANGE, you're adventuring, you're free...

and honestly, isn't that the most wonderful feeling in the world?