Wherever I lay my hat

Champagne Problems

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like… whatever, Dorothy. You’d better not wear those shoes to a Cal-Stanford game.

But that smug Kansas kid had one thing right. Wherever you are, whatever you do, the pull of your home is inexorable. We carry our home with us wherever we go, and at times, it’s frustratingly difficult to reconcile home then and home now, the home of your childhood with your current location. How are you supposed to fully live in one place if you’re from someplace else that tugs, like a hand on your sleeve, at your loyalties? But the alternative — to live your whole life in the place you were raised — is, to me, unthinkable.

When you apply to study abroad, no one really tells you how simultaneously wonderful and devastating your experience will be. They pack you off to a new country, where you most likely know no one. Leaving your familiar surroundings, your friends and family, feels a little bit like the end of the world. You arrive, unpack your things, explore the surrounding area. You meet other people who are just like you — brand new and little nervous. Then, a day or a week or a month later, something clicks and suddenly you feel at home.

This is both the greatest feeling in the world and a huge problem. How are you supposed to leave at the end? As you build another world for yourself, nestle into the fabric of another life in a different city with different people, home looms dimly in the back of your mind. You know that in the near future, you have to tear down the world you’ve built and go home. Leaving all over again feels a little bit like the end of the world, and in a way, it is — it’s the end of your new world, the bubble you have built over the course of the year. As the school year draws to an end, I’m realizing that the hardest part of studying abroad is when your time ends. But the only alternative is to stay at home in your comfort zone, which can quickly become too comfortable.

In Ireland, I study at the main university of the city I have called home since I was seven years old. The idea of leaving was terrifying. Before you study abroad, they’ll warn you that it might take time for you to settle in, but nobody ever warns you that you might settle in so well that you don’t actually want to go back home. You feel guilty, because home is where the heart is, right? You’ve got a life back there. People to see. You’re missing countless birthdays of friends you’ve known your whole life, not just since the start of the semester. But now you’ve got a life over here as well. Over here, you carry your story with you everywhere you go. You speak warmly of home to everyone, because it’s part of who you are, but it feels almost too far away to be real.

I love it so much here that I’ve taken to pretending I’m here forever. Or at least for four years. But as the semester begins to draw to a close, change is afoot, and I can’t pretend anymore. Change in our student government, our classes, our housing, our schedules and our daily routine is on its way. Upheaval is inevitable, goodbyes unavoidable. Whether you are ending your year abroad like me, graduating, or preparing to study abroad next year, you are poised to embark on a new phase of your life. If you’re afraid that the next phase, the next place, will change you, you should be, because it will.

Landing in a new country thousands of miles from home, you have to think on your feet and throw yourself wholeheartedly into every experience in order to adapt. We are constantly adapting to change, riding its wave and emerging at the other end keen to catch another one. Finding your feet all over again in a new place or situation helps you understand where your feet were in the first place. Change may be disruptive and unsettling while it’s happening, but it shakes us up. It prevents us from getting complacent or too comfortable, and the knowledge that we can always survive it and come out stronger at the other ends builds a level of quiet confidence.

They, the all-knowing they, say that just as you can never step in the same river twice, you can never come home again. Before I left, that expression used to scare me. I thought that when I came back, everything would be different. No one would recognize me. They’d mock me for saying trash can and elevator. But actually, it is quite the opposite. Your home remains largely the same. But now you have two different perspectives, windows into two different worlds. It’s you that’s changed, and that’s what makes all the difference.