I was at home in Upstate New York nervously awaiting the start of the single most terrifying thing I’d done to date. I was days away from flying over the ocean to Ireland for the summer on my first study abroad trip. Waiting is bad. Waiting means time. And time is a catalyst for nerves and doubts.
My mind was on how everyone else at the pre-departure meeting had some familial or personal connection to Ireland. I didn’t (**see note). Dublin was just a back-up plan in case I didn’t get into my year-long program in the fall. My lack of affiliation to the destination made my reason for going to Ireland seem less legitimate and made me feel a fake.
My mind was also on how everyone else was going to get a head start on making friends and I’d be left out. Because I attended school in Wisconsin, the flight to Dublin was a group booking from Chicago to Newark to Dublin. Those flying together on the Chicago to Newark leg would, I thought, already have gone through the awkward introductions, initial assessments, and be well on their way to making fast friends. And I had missed out because I wasn’t from the Midwest.
Images of smiling, laughing faces clustered in small groups of three or four all looking at me, the lone new girl, who oddly wasn’t there in Chicago filled my head. And I say oddly because of a response to a question about Newark I sent to the group email list which said something to the effect of “Why does [whatever I asked about] matter? Everyone’s coming from Chicago.”
The immediate dismissal I felt from this response further enhanced my growing doubts about this undertaking. My defenses were heightened. I began to generalize from the actions of one person. I thought these people to be close-minded for not considering that not everyone was from the Midwest. I thought those who studied abroad were open-minded and interested in learning about others different from themselves.
In the days leading up to my departure I, therefore, had summarily illegitimized myself and my place on the trip, decided I wouldn’t make friends because of one missed flight segment, and had amped up my defenses so much that the accuser was actually one of the accused in the case of close-mindedness. I was off to a stellar start.
At last, the day arrived to fly to Dublin. The waiting was finally over. Or so I thought. My parents were sitting with me at the gate. We were informed that the flight was being delayed due to the Chicago flight being behind schedule as our group was a majority of the flight to Dublin.
Being an overnight flight with a late departure time (that was again further delayed [insert angry, annoyed, fearful, defensive sigh]), the concourse was relatively empty. The quiet offered little in distraction. My mind continued to buzz with doubts and fears and wanting it all to be over.
Oh, I’d still go to Ireland. I wanted to skip over all of the stuff like making friends, and figuring out how the basics worked at my home for the next eight weeks. I wanted to be at the point where I’m in Dublin with friends feeling settled, and I know how to work the shower and toilet. But that stuff, I knew, was a part of what studying abroad was all about.
I began to notice that the silence was no longer so silent. There was a humming sound down the corridor. It grew louder and louder until the source arrived at the gate and my fears were confirmed. A large group of late-teens, early twenty-somethings led by a guy in a Wisconsin hockey jersey were chattering away with each other. See – they did make those initial bonds that could develop into friendships – and I missed out. My self-preservation kicked in immediately and tried to salve my ego by criticizing the fact that the leader was clearly not aware that it wasn’t cool to wear US team jerseys in Europe.
But both of these defeatist thoughts were quickly shoved aside by the tumultuous upheaval taking place in my stomach. This was the time. It had finally arrived. Time to kiss and hug my parents goodbye. Time to disengage from their safety net and join the group led by the boy in the hockey jersey. Time to take that proverbial leap. Time to see if I had what it took to accomplish a huge personal goal – studying abroad.
I stood up from my seat and something clicked. My skin prickled and my vision focused. All I could hear was my breathing. Calm came over me and I finally and truly felt ready – ready to take on whatever awaited me. The dichotomy of a ‘them versus me’ was gone; we were now an us. No one had a leg up on anyone else. And I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Sure, some of the nerves would come back later but at that moment, as I walked towards the gate, I was never more present in a moment and never more ready.
**Note: My parents informed me after I returned that my maternal great-grandmother was from Ireland.