Globetrottin': letters from abroad

Most of the time my columns are written in a burst of cheerful productivity after I’ve just come back from an exciting adventure. My posts are fairly happy. This is my normal disposition: I like to keep things positive. The writings I’ve sent you have probably conveyed a sense that every day in England is a joyous adventure, and even the bad days are so much better than bad days at home. This, fellow travelers, is misleading. Not that I’ve been intentionally steering you wrong. It’s just that, when I have a bad day, it goes in my private journal rather than in my column or on my blog.
The truth is, you have bad days anywhere—even in places as amazing as Oxford. And they suck just as badly as they do when you’re at home or at Mercer.
Sometimes worse, because you’re cut off from your support group. I’m lucky enough to have several friends here who have been helping me through a rough time, but not everyone is so lucky to have someone familiar on whom they can rely when they can’t get home.
Because you do get homesick. As November begins to pick up speed in its race to the holidays, we Mercerians over here are all starting to think wistfully of Christmas and of seeing our families again.
The last weeks in October seemed to get all of us down in one way or another, whether we were just homesick or, in some cases, actually sick and wishing we had the comforts of home to make us feel better. You can always call or Skype home, but something of the homesickness remains no matter how often you talk to your mom or your friends.
Recently a very bad thing happened in my family. Early in October, my dog at home developed a strange lump on her leg. As the month went on we discovered it was bone cancer, and it was aggressive. We had to put her down on Halloween, and I wasn’t there to say goodbye.
Sometimes I forget that studying abroad isn’t just an opportunity: it’s an exchange. Those months you spend Elsewhere are months you miss at home—and when you aren’t there, things change. Your social circles expand, contract or sometimes completely dissipate, and you have to learn how to navigate them. Your little brother learns how to drive. People change. And sometimes bad things happen, and you can’t get back home when you most desperately want to be there. The home you left in August is not the home you’ll be returning to in December.
Most of us know this because college has taught it to us. Many of us are studying from far out of state, and getting home is hard even though we’re still in the same country.
However, it is different from actually being an ocean away. And you have to go into studying abroad knowing what you might be giving up.
Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t study abroad for fear of what might happen at home. You’re cheating yourself if you do that, unless you have a really good or really urgent reason for staying even if you want to go. Honestly, a study abroad course is good preparation for the future. Many of our lives are following trajectories that are going to take us—for a while, at least—far from home. And at some point we have to learn to cope with the fact that we can’t get back to our friends and families every few weeks, or even every few months. And I don’t know about you guys, but the enormity of that reality is only starting to sink in for me.
I’m grateful for Oxford in that it’s teaching me how to handle that, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
I miss my dog, though. I’m going to miss her all the worse when I get home and her bark isn’t the first thing that greets me, the way it usually is. It’s going to be a rough adjustment, but everyone who comes back from a trip like this finds that they have to adapt to homes that aren’t quite the same. That’s just the way it goes. Sometimes bad comes with the good… but that doesn’t mean that the good isn’t worth pursuing.