I’ve spent a large portion of this semester being reminded that no matter how many plane tickets I purchase, this semester isn’t a vacation. Sure, my family and friends may assume I spend my days leisurely weaving through a labyrinth of canals. But in reality, I spend a large portion of my time nestled inside, my eyes frantically scanning through the roughly 100 pages of reading and various essays I have to complete each week. The seemingly constant drizzle and intense volume of wind luring me into the recesses of my apartment building even on days of light work, as I vainly hope the fluorescent lights will somehow pierce my skin with much needed vitamin D. Although this mirrors my life in my frigid home school in Rochester, NY, I’m left feeling guilty. Am I fully taking advantage of my experience? How do I afford to travel and to create the idealistic semester I imagined without leaving a gaping hole in my budget?
It’s become a balance. I juggle finding ways to curl the corners of my mouth up, despite the horizontal rain, my soaking clothing from biking to class, and the 20 twenty-page papers which threaten to wash me away as the deadline of the semester looms. It’s a mix of eating pasta for a week and turning down coffee dates and nights out with friends to afford a much-needed escape into the mountains or the sunshine. This act, this performance, this balance – it’s resilience. As I trek through this semester abroad, I find ways to remind myself of the inner strength that I possess – that anyone who dares to venture thousands of miles away from home to challenge yourself possesses – this inner strength that pushes you through the looming struggles and rejoices in the rewards.
I experienced my first self-realization of strength when I ventured to the UK last month. For some, a vacation includes extended hours of sunshine and tanning oil. Mine includes 8+ hours of hiking uphill and of bundling on another layer as I crunch through snow. My vacation in April included reaching the top of Snowdon mountain in Northern Whales and taking a breath. Finding clarity. Feeling the ache in my legs, sharing warmth with fellow hikers in the form of warm greetings and grins, and being present as I felt my heart fill with every crisp intake of breathe. Growing up in New Hampshire first triggered my love for the mountains. At home, I look out the window and am stunned daily by the sight of the white mountains. Snowdonia National Park not only brought me a drop of home, but it also brought me a flashback to Ecuador, where I spent my semester camping in volcanic craters and climbing the mountains that surrounded my city.
A month ago, I felt the ache of homesickness, and I fed it with mountains. Last weekend, I satisfied my need for Vitamin D and the Spanish language. Amsterdam was sprinkled with a few sunny days throughout the past week, but it wasn’t enough. As seasonal depression continued to bear its ugly head, my need for rays of warmth encouraged me to immediately book a trip to Spain. As I wove my way through the eccentric streets of tapas and parks in Madrid and gazed at the incredible work of Gaudi in Barcelona between periodic trips to the beach, I was revived. I didn’t fully comprehend my need for a common language until my first day there, as I confidently spoke in Spanish, asking a man on the metro if the train did indeed go all the way to my destination. His smile and confirmation lit a spark in me that I didn't realize was in threat of being extinguished. My feeble Dutch is enough to get me through a grocery store or a café, but I missed the way Spanish sounded rolling off my tongue. I missed the satisfied smiles of waiters and shop owners as I spoke fluently despite my deeply sunburned skin that marked me as a foreigner. I missed connecting with a culture on the most basic of levels—with language. As my plane departed from the Barcelona airport, I felt that dull ache – a mix of excitement and sadness as I momentarily left Spain, with the knowledge that I’d soon find my way back.
It’s trips like these – full of endless days of exploring, feeling foreign, and aching legs— that resets me. It’s trips like these that encourage me to fully grasp the depths of my resilience. It’s these times, when you step out of the comfort you’ve created in your country away from home, that you find parts of yourself you forgot you possessed. This is what defines my study abroad – not the constant pressure to be on vacation or the hours I pour into schoolwork, but the times in which I realize my need for the temporary thrill of change. It’s about finding resilience in the reset.