So I moved to Sweden. I started thinking about studying abroad just over a year ago, during my spring ’13 creative writing class – you know, the one that brought me back to life and all that.
Up until that point I’d not thought that studying abroad was something that couldn’t really be a part of my reality. It was expensive, it was big, it was scary. When I was younger I’d balked at moving to San Francisco for school and, comparatively, that’s an itty-bitty move. If I couldn’t cross state lines for school, how was I supposed to cross country boarders? But during that class, while thinking about study abroad in a new light, I picked up this moto: “Embrace the fear.”
Cheesy, sure, but it worked. I made it not fear, but initiative to jump headlong into an adventure senior-year-of-high-school me would have shit her pants even thinking about, and I set up a meeting with the study abroad coordinator to arrange a plan of action. A year and some change later I’m here, set up in a dorm in Uppsala, Sweden, a nine-hour time difference from home on the west coast. Getting here was hardly an adventure – more like a culmination of all of the fears and worries I’d been packing away into a little box in the corner of my mind while I filled out all the paper work, applied for the scholarships and went to the meetings.
My travel went far more smoothly than my buddy Swedish David’s did (see his travel adventures here) but it was exhausting nonetheless. They call it “uprooting” for a reason: not unlike trees, we put down thick, sturdy roots. Connections to places and communities, close ties with friends and family we get to see on a daily basis. Doing something like this? You pull all of those roots out, you pack them up and you go.
Of course you still have all those connections back home – but without the ability to be in the same room as someone, to touch them and hear their voice daily, to smell the smell of their clothes and their apartment, to eat a meal with them…it’s drastic, and there’s really no way to make it not abrupt.
I spent a considerable amount of my final days talking people through what it meant for them that I was leaving – a few of them having already talked me through what it meant for me that I was leaving and wouldn’t be seeing them for nine months. What that meant, interestingly and movingly, was that I learned things about some of my friends that I hadn’t known. Sometimes it made me desperately not want to leave. But, as I spent almost three hours explaining to my eight-year-old niece, that wasn’t an option.
Em, the older of my two nieces, asked me over and over again why I was going and if I had to go. I thought of many different ways to try to explain to her why I was going: there was nothing left for me there. No new opportunities. No new adventures. I’d learned everything I was going to learn there. I needed to go somewhere new to meet new people, have new adventures, learn new things. I was a goldfish that had grown as much as it could in its little bowl – I needed a new bowl.
She asked me again “Do you have to go?” “Yes, I do,” I said, wishing I could explain to her all of the many reasons why I was so desperate to get out of that town, but knowing she was too young for all of those details. “No you don’t,” she said. “You just want to go.”
That’s something that I’ve used on her a great number of times. “But I need cake!” “Do you need it, or do you want it?” She has learned well, my young grass-hopper. And she did touch on something important: yes, I wanted to go. Did I really need to go? I obviously would have survived had I not, but I’m not convinced I would have thrived.
That goldfish in the bowl thing – I feel like it was pretty accurate. Opportunities for my kind of people are limited in that town. We go to the university and we move on. And I’d only gone to the university there because it was easy and it was safe. It was close to home, I wouldn’t have to uproot to go there. It wasn’t so much a choice as it was laziness and fear. Besides, there were things I needed to get away from, a sort of spiritual toxin that had started gathering in the air around me there, and there are lessons I needed to learn that I couldn’t without leaving. Such as the lesson I will hopefully be simultaneously helping Em to learn: just because people leave doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned you. It doesn’t mean they won’t come back. This is new to her, there’s no way she can know that. And my history tells me otherwise – which was one of my main hang ups when it came to leaving. I hardly trusted that people would still be around for me. I’m in the process of really understanding that they will, and that wouldn’t be happening were I still there.
The town had become constricting. Staying and trying to force more growth to happen would really have only amounted to me chasing my tail for a couple more years before I jumped ship to go on some other adventure. But this adventure, I think, is the adventure I need. Growing pains are inevitable, but at this point I welcome them. It’s good to be in a bigger bowl – good to be able to move freely again.