Sunday, February 1, 2009

Straddling Two Worlds

The honeymoon is over. I've lost my rose colored glasses somewhere by the wayside of the never ending Irish roads, and now they lay abandoned and covered with dew amid the gravel and banana peel coloured grass. As a Human Development major, and after having worked with youth groups in the past, I technically should have been more prepared for this part of my trip. Whenever a group of people enter a new group or situation they begin going through a cycle of adjustment. The first level is forming, where everyone is still trying to find their space and figure out where they stand in this new environment. The next level is storming, when people tend to become dissatisfied with the group and mild tensions arise as people reevaluate whether this is really where and who they want to be. Eventually norming kicks in where a semblance of peace and amicable living is achieved within the group. It all ends with (hopefully) performing. This last stage is akin to the kid who has to be carried kicking and screaming to his first day of summer camp and then sulks away most of his summer. However, something happens where everything falls into place that last week and when his parents come to pick him up, he's loathe to leave, standing arm and arm with the summer camp friends he's made.

Currently I'm in the storming phase. The idiosyncrasies of Ireland that up until now I've found so endearing are starting to wear on me. Why does is make a laser sound when I cross the street? Is everything truly "grand" and do I really deserve a million thanks? Are Wednesday and Thursday really the best nights to go out to the pubs (you turn into your own parent here even more than when you went to college, because after a month of nonstop partying and slacking off you remember, at the end of this I still will have 6 3,000 word essays to write)? I eagerly await the emails and messages from friends back home, devouring stories of life back in Ithaca and reading the last word with a disappointment to rival the child who just accidentally licked her favorite ice cream cone too hard and is now staring at a melting blob of Mint Chocolate Chip slowly gathering dust while it puddles on the sidewalk.

However, as Potluck, the foreign film we went to see on Wednesday, reminds me, the worst times on your trip end up being the stories you love to tell the most. Looking back, those of the times when you felt the most strongly, even if it was bad. Those are the memories you choose when trying to convey the experience, small life snapshots that attempt to sum up the entire 5 month experience. I've started to adopt that attitude when taking pictures. On a trip to Connemara recently, where we visited the Kylemore Abbey and the Frankletter Education Centre, I was tempted to take millions of pictures of the landscape, mountains rising up like new buds from desolate fields, crags jostling with the sky for space. However, I tried to keep in mind the monotony that pictures of the landscape can turn into at times, I mean how many rolling hills can you really appreciate? I ended up focusing in on the details, little pieces of the journey that would help add up to the total experience, the opulence of the dining room in the Abbey, it's mahogany banister that outlines a twisting staircase, the ivy curling down the corners of a white marble fireplace, and most importantly, the people who share the experience with me.

Many of my friends who come back from abroad say that the most frustrating thing is when people say, "Oh you went to [put in your country here] huh? How was that?" I never quite understood before, but I'm beginning to. Studying abroad isn't like going on a vacation or telling someone how your day was or deciding what you're having for dinner. It's the total of 5 months, give or take, of days spent hungry or tired or lonely or awestruck, a semester of reshaping and testing the personal identity you've built up for yourself. How do you describe a period of time where you stepped into another culture with an adjective? Maybe I'll think about it until that moment, most likely I'll just go back to the old faithful standby of abroad descriptors and say something like, "Oh man it was totally amazing."

For the last couple weeks I've been giving myself some slack. You're just getting started, I'd comfort myself. Or there's plenty of time to accomplish everything you want to do during study abroad. However, now we're a month in, the experience is 1/5th finished and we're not playing house anymore. The life that's slowly been creeping in is steadily solidifying around you until one morning you wake up and you've built your life here, with all it's mundane traditions, Saturday morning quirks, favorite eating establishments, and new foreign identity. I guess this is the time to take stock of how the experience is going, a personal checkpoint to make sure you're on the right track.

I'm not sure when the moment is that I'm going to start fulling identifying with my life here. I both look forward to and dread when that moment will arrive. It's hard to move on when so much of me is invested in my life back home. Sometimes I think it's necessary though to fully appreciate my time here. Other times I feel like I'm quoting the opening speech to every study abroad meeting they made us attend (man those guys get inside your head.)

No regrets right? Well I'm working on it.

1 comment:

  1. Another beautiful post with so many of the sentiments that I can relate to. I especially liked your thoughts on the photography because I approach every major tourist stop and new city with that same objective: find the details that everyone else forgets. While they're off snapping twenty shots of that famous door, I'm zooming in on the angel in the marble surrounding that door. Keep on sharing your thoughts and experiences in your talented, lyrical way.