What does it mean to go abroad when it seems like everything is connected?
I’ll be leaving on a jet plane. Soon — I mean, relatively soon. I’m studying abroad in London next semester. Now that classes are over, that statement actually feels like it means something. I’m eyeing airline tickets, I’m procrastinating on the housing deadline, I’m making a mental list of Hugh Grant movies to watch, for educational purposes.
I’ve never really had to deal with the strains distance can put on relationships. I’m from New Jersey — it’s convenient that everyone I care about sticks to the East Coast.
Lately, I’ve gotten to wondering what would be worse: letting connections loosen, or trying too hard to keep them tight. If this were 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have to worry about that at all. It would be occasional postcards, maybe a scrapbook for the return home. But today, I have the option of staying in two places at once. Virtually, at least. But then each place only has half of me. Is that worth it?
I’d be kind of in London, kind of in the States. I’m always going on and on about how technology makes us callous, always waxing nostalgic for letters and rotary phones — until it comes to my own anticipated homesickness. Then technology is okay. It’s the best. “Bring me a bluetooth headset, chief, I’m ready.”
But that’s ridiculous. I know that I shouldn’t feel the need to act like a hologram in the lives of my friends and family. But Skype and Facebook and, you know, basically the universe is telling me otherwise.
Is a quick, “London’s amazing!!!” actually going to improve anyone’s day? Probably not. Unless you’re my mother.
Will I be out sight, out of mind like the friends from grade school who startle me with their existence on Facebook? Will I document my every move via Twitter and Instagram and whatever hot new social media concept will be trendy three months from now?
I like to think I’ll land somewhere in between. I want to be able to come back and tell friends stories with full-on facial expressions — stories they haven’t already heard through a hastily written email. I want to have someone say, “You seem different” and actually mean it. I want to come back and not feel guilty for having been away.
Because if I spent too much time keeping in touch with home, I’d feel out of touch with everything else.
A few times a week, I tell myself that I need to stop being so ridiculous about this, so self-indulgent. You’re going away for a few months. Big deal. People do it all the time. And they do, I know they do. People do it for years and years, to go to school, to have a job. But not me, not ever.
Even more annoyingly, in the last few weeks, I’ve found myself looking at things in this cloying, melodramatic way. I go down Locust Walk just to admire the view. The other day, I got a cafe frequent buyer card and realized I won’t punch out all the holes until next spring. It will just wait in my wallet at home — smooth, whole, lonely. I glance at the trees on the street where I live and wonder, will they miss me?
Then I snap out of it. Inanimate objects don’t care if I’ll be away from Philadelphia for half a year. They’ll be fine. They’ll find someone else.
Then there are other times when I’m in the midst of making plans and being generally giddy. At these moments, I feel the need to be grounded. I remind myself that it’s likely that I’ve overestimated my preparedness. Maybe I’m not self-sufficient — I should really practice reading maps. I’m terrible with directions. At least I won’t have to drive. Driving is the worst. And so on and so forth.
But more often than not, I just want to be there already. I know my neurosis is just my way of expressing excitement.
I’ve always had this vision of travel as a transformative experience. I have a romantic idea of going to Europe, cutting my hair around my ears like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” or “Sabrina,” coming back a different person. Sophisticated, independent, cultured.
I don’t know if that will actually happen. It probably won’t. I think I like my hair too much.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Duly Noted usually appears on Mondays.
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