As I sat in my classroom six months ago and looked at the study abroad brochure my professor had handed out to us, I knew I was looking at something I wanted to do more than anything. When I looked at the brochure that day, a day that might as well happened decades ago, I dared to hope that somehow, I could make it happen.
I met with the wonderful people who put together this program and took a huge chance in applying for a grant so I could participate in it. And when I was awarded that incredibly generous scholarship from the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, I had no idea what I was in for when I accepted my place in the program. I had absolutely no idea just how much studying thousands of miles away from home was going to change me.
These words were written when I was on my plane, headed home. No matter how many happy emotions I feel upon being home again, I can’t stop thinking about this trip, or how much I already miss London, or how much I would love to go back Washington, D.C. to visit the National Mall one more time. Above all, I can’t stop thinking something that both thrills and scares me: I am not the same person I was two weeks ago.
I feel as though my confidence has skyrocketed. It seems unacceptable to me now that I used to continuously beat myself up for not being the smartest or the most successful. I mean, I put myself through this. This was not a vacation. This was not an easy trip. From 9 to 5 each day I was listening to government officials, taking notes, and talking extensively about policy and governance in sustainable systems, a subject that even our speakers admitted was very abstract and ridiculously complicated. I had to deal with homesickness and anxiety. I had to work with a sensitive/nervous stomach and severe hypoglycemia. I focused on enjoying the good rather than dwelling on the bad – something that would have been very easy to do. I forced myself not to quit that first awful day in London when I could have ended it all and gone home.
Throwing myself out of my element and forcing myself to cope with things out of my comfort zone was perhaps the best things I’ve ever done for my mental health (and my physical health as well – I’m so in shape now from walking at least 2 or 3 miles every day!). Gone are the days I let anxiety run my life. Gone are the days I get angry with myself for not being perfect. I’m never going to be perfect. I’m never going to be the smartest or the most successful. What this trip made me realize is that Iam perfect at one thing, and that one thing is simply being me. And after all this, after recognizing just how powerful my mind is and what all it is I can make myself do, I like me.
Maybe that is the main reason I didn’t want to come back. Maybe deep down, I’m scared that when I come home, that person I became is going to fall away.
During this trip, I made some amazing friends that I could geek out about sustainability with. I made connections with incredible people, one of whom I actually intend to follow up with to talk about a potential internship/the restarting of an ASU chapter of the particular program I’m interested in. I got to visit the National Mall. I met a Vietnam veteran. I visited Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, King’s Cross Station, Cambridge University, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey (plus I saw the London Bridge and the London Eye from a distance). Those were places I’ve wanted to see forever. And when I saw them, they were places I wanted to stay in forever.
I know I’m in for what’s called reverse culture shock. I know I’m going to go through severe withdrawals.
I’m going to walk into a café or a grocery store back home and be stunned at the large serving sizes and the ingredients in the food. I’m going to expect to be asked if I’m staying in or taking my food away.
I’m going to miss my dorm room in London. I’m going to miss hearing the sounds of the city.
I’m going to miss the huge variety of cultures and languages that London offered.
I’m going to miss the friendliness of day-to-day people, and the fact that I could start a conversation with just about anybody.
I’m actually going to miss the Tube. I’m going to miss Piccadilly Circus. No, I’m not over that name’s awesomeness.
But if there is anything else that this trip has solidified, it’s that every ending really is a new beginning. The way I make this trip live on is by living with as much momentum I had when I was studying thousands of miles away from home. That’s how I rid myself of my fear that my confidence will disappear once I’m back. That’s how I never forget.
In the meantime, a little piece of my heart still remains in Washington, D.C., and another has unexpectedly been left in London as well. I’ll never get them back, and I don’t want them back. They’ll stay in those cities undisturbed until the day comes when I get to return.
Pat Conroy once wrote, “Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
He was right.
I’ll be dreaming of London and Washington, D.C. for a long, long time.