Saturday, December 8, 2012

One of the lucky ones

Is it really December 8th already? I'm having a hard time, both intellectually and emotionally, coming to terms with the fact that in a week I'll be back in the United States. So much has happened in such a short amount of time.

When I arrived in London I had entirely different expectations for my time here. I'll spend each weekend away in a new foreign country. I'll eat out most meals and have the opportunity to revisit all my favorite places in the city whenever I want.

Well much like that in the beloved scene from (500) Days of Summer, expectations rarely align with reality. I may have returned to this city expecting my experience to be akin to some extended vacation, but it was nothing like that. Before I could even catch my breath after returning to London took my breath away a few months ago, I was winded again by the plethora of classes I was taking and the extensive and plentiful assignments I was responsible for before I even felt I was mentally prepared to be academically proficient.

The truth of the matter is, study abroad simply didn't stack up against my expectations. I did get to travel a bunch, and I did get to see a few shows and experience my favorite parts of my favorite city as I had hoped to. But when I got here, what I expected seemed juvenile.

Because I simply didn't factor in the concept that I would be in school. Study abroad felt like a quarter-long break, but that isn't what it is at all. It's regular academics, perhaps even more difficult, in a foreign country. It's the added pressure of socialization in an environment where you know practically no one.

I wasn't ready, I still don't think I am. But now that I'm faced with leaving I feel even worse. Because despite the difficulty of adjusting to this system, to this style of living, I've had an irreplaceable experience.

And even when things felt like they were falling apart because of the reality of it all, there have been magical moments sprinkled throughout. Like meeting people who mean the world to me and finally feeling like a local in a city that somehow always felt familiar to me.

These were the things I didn't think about so much when I was getting ready to live in London for a term. I considered the tangible things. I thought about planning big vacations and not doing homework and getting to go to Sainsbury's to buy pizza.

Did I think about what goes along with those things? Barely.

So I leave surprised. Surprised that even though I can't say I wasn't disappointed by some of the things I missed - some of the experiences I expected to have but didn't actually have - I can also say that the disappointment led to something greater. I am more intrinsically happy than I have ever been in my life, even if some of the more tangible things have been difficult and trying.

Maybe this is a normal feeling - the bittersweet nostalgia at having left a study abroad experience. On one hand, there's a familiarity and comfort in returning to a country and a life that I've lived for years. College in the states is no foreign enemy to me. The work doesn't frighten me. I may be just as stressed, but I'm better able to handle it because I'm used to it.

But I leave behind one of the greatest experiences of my life. The fact that I could walk down to Covent Garden on a whim is something that I may never be able to experience again. I may never get to shop at the same Sainsbury's and I'll certainly never frequent Warren Street Underground Station as much as I do now.

I'm sad about all of those things.

But I'm happy to be going home as well. And that leaves me with a sort of half-frown, half ecstatic smile.

In a few weeks I'll be home with my dad and the rest of my immediate family. I'll get to see my niece who has been growing so quickly that I can barely keep track of her through the Facebook updates that happen frequently, but perhaps not frequently enough.

There's a ton to look forward to and even more to tell of the past. And it's that dichotomy that reminds me of what a great life I've been able to lead these past few months, years, and in the forthcoming months and years.

For this last week I just want to reflect on how blessed I've been. To be in one of the greatest cities on Earth and to be returning to another one, only to go to another one in January. I am literally one of the luckiest people on this planet.

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