Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Semester of First Times

One of the greatest things about going someplace new, is that it introduces a whole new set of "firsts." After three years at Cornell and 14 years in my home town of Blairstown, I had almost exhausted all of the possible novelties. First time at Grassroots? Check. Barbecuing peaches and vanilla ice cream on a warm summer night? You betcha. Board game night where we simultaneously watched Clue the movie while guessing Professor Plum in the Dining Hall with the wrench? Oh yea.

There's nothing like the feeling of doing something for the first time. Not to mention the bonding that goes on when everyone involved has no idea what they're doing. There's something intensely intimate about the blind following the blind. Mutual ignorance and a little tang of fear to spice things up covered with a bravado frosting. Recipe for instant friendship.

Travelling to another country is a little like going back to kindergarten. Or maybe it's more like that dream where you're in class and the teacher tells you you have a presentation that's worth 80% of your grade and you realized you've got nothing. I spend about 90% of my time feeling stupid and the other 10% talking to my friends here about our shared incompetence. Still, not feeling in control is a little like constantly being under the influence. Everything is a little blurred. The colors are brighter and more vivid, and in the morning you either don't remember or you pretend that you don't remember. Also, you continuously have an excuse for bad life choices.

The friendships you make during your time abroad are the relationships forged between survivors. You cling to any aspect of the familiar. You get each other through foreign experiences by reminiscing about NY style pizza and online class enrollment and normal looking toilets. For that time at least, these people because your replacement family, your American-accented lifesaver during the semesters storm.

I wake up every morning knowing that at least one thing that day will be different. Things hit me in waves. The km/liter for gas. The metric system on the measuring cups. The switches to turn on the power outlets. The joules instead of calories on the nutrition facts. The way that when you're walking at someone on the sidewalk they swerve to the left instead of the right (Why are we the only people who drive on the right side of the road btw?). All the firsts lead me to my apartment door at night exhausted, as if I'd spent the day trying to translate French into modern dance. However, there's something inexplicably sweet about each first time...and whether its a good or bad experience, it's something that indelibly branded into your experience.

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