Yesterday, after my tutorial, I hopped a bus to London in order to attend a concert with a friend in the city. It was early in the unseasonably sunny afternoon, and I had just turned in my first tutorial paper, and the two combined to create a lovely feeling of contentment as I snuggled down into my bus seat for the ride.
The bus began to roll out of the station through Oxford, and as I looked out the window at Matthew Arnold’s “city of dreaming spires,” a thought occurred to me with quiet, beautiful clarity: I love it here. Right on its heels, though, came a much less welcome thought: It’s already halfway over.
I tried to shut that thought out to return to my happy mood, but the damage had been done. I realized it had been a month, to the day, since Sean and I had concluded our tour of Ireland and returned to England. That doesn’t seem possible; so much has happened in the interim that surely I’ve been here longer than a month—but then, why does it still feel so short?
A lot, it seems, can happen in a month. We’ve been able to explore Oxford and the surrounding towns, on our own and through our program’s excursions. We’ve made it through our first essays and our first tutorial sessions with varying degrees of stress. (I had a minor nervous breakdown and ended up throwing an apple at the neighborhood cat in an effort to make it stop yowling—but don’t worry, I didn’t hit it.) We’ve experienced a level of academia we’d never encountered before, and we’re starting to make friends with the people who live here.
Before the concert last night, my friend and I were talking about how we don’t feel like tourists anymore. A month might not be a very long time, but it’s long enough for us to feel like we belong here too. It’s becoming another home.
For guarded people like me, the problem with a study abroad trip is that we are the temporary factor. We are here now, but soon we are going to leave the friends we meet, the place we love and the home we’ve made for ourselves. And that is a painful experience. My friends who came to Oxford for the last semester couldn’t refrain from telling me, upon their return to the States, how much they missed it here. I’m trying not to think about how, in two months, I’m going to discover just how right they were.
Because the thing is, on a trip like this, you can’t just refuse to strike roots for the sake of protecting yourself when it comes time to leave. Not only does that diminish your experience while you’re here, but it’s entirely too tempting to let those roots grow. You could choose to isolate yourself from the culture, but where’s the fun in that? If you’ve made the decision to go abroad at all it’s because you feel the itch to be Elsewhere, and once you’re there, it’s unlikely that your itch would be satisfied without the true experience of the people and place. And it might be that the place just appeals to you immediately. The affection for Oxford hit us almost instantaneously; to try to stave that off would be like actively trying not to fall in love.
I’m resigned to the fact that I am going to miss Oxford awfully when I leave it, but this is the last time I’m going to think about that until I actually board the plane back. In the meantime, I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing: letting my roots grow deeper. That way, if I ever get the chance to return, I’ll have a home to come back to.