You’re standing at the airport, saying goodbye to your loved ones and your best friends. You are leaving for a semester or a year and you know that without a doubt, you will return and some things will be different. There is no knowing what will change, only the certainty that something will.
You also know that things will happen abroad that you are not entirely prepared for. Let me start with the small.
The amount of times you will be sick. All right, maybe this small disaster is expected, but after 4 times in 4 weeks of being sick, you start to daydream about what being healthy used to feel like. Ibuprofen has now become a permanent part of your genetic makeup and you manage to impress your peers with your knowledge of Spanish medical words. Your professors probably don’t remember what you sound like without a cold. I’m writing from experience.
Perhaps bigger than persistent, annoying colds are the unexpected things… like food poisoning while you are traipsing through Scotland. You know, I had never had food poisoning before and therefore was absolutely shocked when my body started rejecting me. Hey, things happen. There are also other occurrences, like for some inexplicable reason, after returning from Morocco, you can’t seem to eat anything without feeling the almost instantaneous urge to go to the bathroom. This goes on for two weeks. You tell no one and convince yourself that the coffee in Spain is just REALLY strong.
And then… and then the worst disasters. The ones we don’t want to think about because they are just too bad. These are the disasters that take place at home, without us. For some, maybe you thought about these disasters before boarding a plane, maybe you dream about them. Now for these disasters, I guess I would say that you shouldn’t be afraid to feel them--after all, you are human. If you receive news that something awful happened at home and you are devastated, I advise you to tell those closest to you. Sure, being abroad means being without your best friends and family, but being abroad also is where you make close connections with other people—your host family and your fellow extranjeros. Your support system is important and they will want to know what is wrong. Take a while to be by yourself and breathe, think positive, cry, do something happy… but most important, do not let the disaster take away from the wonderful experience that you are having abroad. The time will be over soon enough.
Maybe this is why the goodbye before going abroad is so heavy. It’s because we can’t tell the future. We can’t know that we will be sick a lot, or that food poisoning will strike at the most inopportune time, or that lifelong companions will go from present tense to past tense. The only thing we know is how to carry on, in any way possible. Life is full of all different kinds of disasters, big and little, bad and worse. The best way to counter these disasters is with incredible memories, victories, and most importantly, perseverance.