Featured, The World at Large

Breaking Up With Abroad

“Try to look at your experience here as a mandala, Chapman. Work hard to make something as meaningful and beautiful as you can and when you’re done, pack it in and know it was all temporary. You have to remember that. It’s all temporary.”

– Yoga Jones, Orange is the New Black

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 8.19.18 PMThe summer after my senior year of high school was a strange time.  With graduation behind us and college looming on the horizon, it’s safe to say we all went a little insane.  Fights broke out, friendships frayed or intensified, tears were shed in the linens department at Bed Bath and Beyond.  It was a time when we knew how temporary everything was.  As soon as late August rolled around, a new chapter would start and this—whatever it was—would all be over.  I scoffed at those who clung to their prom dates and high school sweethearts.  A relationship with an expiration date, I said, can’t survive.

To this day, I still stand by that belief.  Yes, it’s cynical, but the petulant realist in me says that there’s no use in pursuing something that you know is going to end, especially if that end is coming soon.  It’s self-preservation, if anything—might as well forgo it if it’s just going to hurt you in the end.

When I arrived here in Glasgow early in the fall, I came on a round-trip ticket.  As soon as I left Boston, I was well aware that I would be coming back on 21 December 2013.  An expiration date as clear as day, a date that felt like an eternity away.

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That day is tomorrow.

Where has the time gone?

I looked back a while ago at an article I never published about my first month abroad.  Those four weeks were probably some of the hardest of my life.  I missed everything about home from professors to friends, from football to Rat mac and cheese (no, actually, it’s an addiction).  I reveled in castles and haggis and ceilidhs, struggled with metric conversions and drivers on the wrong side of the road.

Most of all, I lacked attachment.  Whether intentional or not, I kept to myself to avoid the eventual pain of tearing myself away from ties that wouldn’t bear the three-thousand-mile strain.  It was lonely, but solitude is nothing new for me.  This stint in Scotland would end soon.  I wasn’t going to get attached.

But then, somehow, it happened—“the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.”  I adopted a mantra from a Mountain Goats song: “I want to go home, but I am home.”  I started finding beauty in the small things.  Unforgettable memories soon followed: lying about having a bartending license and pouring my own drink at the pub, performing standup comedy in front of an audience full of friends, wandering tipsy down a lane glowing with fairy lights.  I tried not to fall at all, but I fell in love with Glasgow harder than I ever could have anticipated.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 8.18.28 PMSaying goodbye these past few weeks has been trying.  I gladly bid adieu to the bureaucratic nightmare of the British education system, to the everpresent mist and cigarette smoke hanging over the city.  But some farewells were more of a challenge: to the view from Kelvingrove Park, to my favorite cafes and pubs, to the people who made the good times great and the hard times bearable.  I told my friends to look me up if they ever ended up stateside, but I know in my heart that our goodbyes are very permanent.

Leaving things behind is one of the inevitabilities of life.  It might minimize the pain of separation to avoiding connections to the impermanent, but it also minimizes the impact of these impressive yet fleeting experiences.  You can’t take people and places with you, but you can bring their teachings.  And that’s what it’s all about.

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