Paper Chains: Real and Metaphorical Connections to Home and Self

Kyla Hunter
August 27, 2021

When I was five years old, my older sister helped me make a paper chain to count down to the first day of kindergarten. We must have gotten the idea from an arts and crafts magazine and dug through our box of art supplies to come up with the scissors, tape, and stacks of colorful construction paper. After completing the strand of dozens of interlocked paper loops, we hung it from the hanging potted plant in the kitchen. Each morning as I wandered into the kitchen, I would rip off one paper loop. As summer dwindled, the chain shrunk shorter and shorter. The anticipation built with each passing day until, finally, the first day of school rolled around. With memorable excitement, I pulled over a stool, reached up, and unhooked the final loop from the hanging rope planter.

This particular memory has been resurfacing lately as I count down the days until I leave for study abroad. The paper chain may have been replaced by checkmarks on my calendar, but the feeling of anticipation is surprisingly familiar. 

There are a number of events that I have counted down the days to ever since the first one over fifteen years ago: first days of school, birthdays, vacations, graduations. But few of those events have signified a life change as substantial as leaving to live and study in a foreign country across the world for four months. The period of anticipation leading up to a monumental event is always an interesting grey area to navigate. Some weeks fly by without a second thought. The metaphorical “paper chain” seems suddenly surprisingly shorter. Some day— occurring increasingly often as the date nears—seem to drag on. You stare at the paper chain begging it to budge.

One helpful practice I learned a long time ago is that lists often help. Presenting….."Current Concerns and Tribulations: a dismaying unveiling of my most recent anxiety-producing undertakings:"

1. Saying goodbyes to all the friends and family I want to see before I leave

Following the end of a chaotic spring semester, I flew home from school on May 4th. Aside from a few weekend trips into the city or down the Jersey shore, I have been home the entire summer. In that time, I have been lucky enough to spend countless memorable moments with my family and hometown friends—sharing dozens of meals, embarking on numerous road trips, and taking hundreds of photos. This has been the longest and busiest summer break of my life, yet it still doesn’t feel like quite enough time to say goodbye. At the stage of life where my friends and I are all busy adults with complicated lives, no promises can be made for the next time we’ll all be together. The future being so unknown, I can’t exactly make a paper chain and countdown the days until I’ll see them again. 

2. An ode to Duke basketball and New Jersey pizza

Move-in day for my home university was last week. In a normal year, I would have returned a few weeks ago to participate in RA training and prepare for the arrival of new students. As the fall semester kicks into gear, I can’t help but be reminded about all that I’m missing on campus: orientation week, pictures in front of Duke chapel, rush events, FDOC (First Day of Classes), picnics in the gardens, Nugget the campus dog. Similarly, I can imagine the wave of nostalgia that will kick in upon leaving New Jersey: longings for boardwalks, bus rides into the city, NY pizza, quality bagels. I’m trading both homes I know and love for a new one that remains completely unknown.

3. People love to give advice about packing

Having moved multiple times in my life, I like to think I’m mostly familiar with the ins-and-outs of packing. Yet, never before have I had to fit all of my belongings in a single suitcase and carry-on. This issue is compounded by the fact that every stranger and their mother seem to have conflicting advice about how and what and when to pack. There’s a high likelihood the process of packing will pan out to be a battle between the two opposing sides of my personality: my inner minimalist who wants to ditch all my earthly belongings and start a new life with nothing more than the bare essentials, and my inner romantic who assigns deep personal value to materialistic items and treasures all belongings for their nostalgic value. Who will win? Stay tuned for future posts to find out...

4. Maybe I should have picked London or Belfast...

I took Spanish for three years in high school and I was absolutely enamored with it. Unfortunately, three years have (somehow) passed since my junior year of high school and my last experience with Spanish in a formal classroom environment. I’ve done my best to spend time practicing over the past few months, but Duolingo and Spanish subtitles can only get one so far. As a chronic overthinker, the thought of carrying on a conversation in a foreign language is always an intimidating one. I know that overcoming the language barrier will undoubtedly be one of the difficult parts of my study abroad experience.

Despite these concerns, I wouldn’t change anything about my plans and remain incredibly grateful for the opportunities before me. In practicing gratitude, I discover that each point of apprehension comes with many more upsides than downsides. I may miss loved ones, but I will soon be meeting a multitude of new, interesting people, and investing in the potential of future relationships. Home will still be here when I return, and in the meantime I will discover an entirely new place, culture and environment. Stumbling through Spanish will undoubtedly prove nerve-wrecking and embarrassing, but improving my Spanish proficiency is one of my most important goals. Learning to embrace moments of discomfort (and stop taking myself so seriously) will lead to the most significant moments of growth.

Making such a significant change can’t be thoughtfully done without hesitation and worries. And that’s okay! Let this be your reminder to practice gratitude, embrace new opportunities and, when in doubt, always keep making lists and paper chains.

Kyla Hunter

<p>Hello! My name is Kyla Hunter and I am a rising junior at Duke University studying Mechanical Engineering, with a focus on Energy &amp; Environment. Although I was born in Princeton, New Jersey, bouncing around between different states as a child was the beginning of my interest in exploring new settings and meeting new people. I have long dreamed of studying abroad and am thrilled to be participating in the IES - Engineering, Math &amp; Science Program in Madrid this fall. On campus, I am a Residential Assistant for first-year students and a tour guide for the School of Engineering. In my free time, I can often be found drawing in my sketchbook or playing the piano in the common room. I look forward to sharing some of my experiences as I navigate new cultural, social, and academic endeavors in Spain!</p>

2021 Fall
Home University:
Duke University
Princeton, NJ
Engineering - General
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