When you grow up with a Capitol building like the picture below, though interesting in architecture, it leaves you wanting more. It just never screamed, “I’m a State Capitol! Come look at me!”
It wasn’t until I saw the Wisconsin State Capitol on a college tour of the Midwest that my life was changed forever. This gorgeous building couldn’t deny its State Capitol-dom if it tried. This is what I always thought State Capitols should look like – dome-topped.
After witnessing the great difference in styles between my home state of New York’s Capitol and my newly adopted state of Wisconsin’s Capitol, I became curious to know just how different each State’s Capitol buildings are. I started snapping photos of Capitol buildings all across the country. Some people want to travel to America’s different ballparks; I want to see each Capitol building.
Under my Postcards “tab” I have added a page with my ‘Capitol Travels.’ There you can take a look at what buildings I have made it to and what ones I have yet to visit. I’ll keep you posted when I hit my next Capitol building.
Earlier this week I returned home from a 14-day trip to Wisconsin, a place I not too long ago lived and where I studied years before. Not only am I physically exhausted from the go go go of trying to see everyone, do everything, and be everywhere, but I am, much to my surprise, mentally exhausted. I had not anticipated that a nice reunion tour would, upon returning home, leave me with so much running through my brain, let alone have many of the same questions or thoughts I had when returning from studying abroad.
My reactions have run the gamut from playing the comparison game (“man, I hate the fact that the gas pumps in New York don’t lock. I wish they were more like Wisconsin’s”) to feeling more engaged with my surroundings, and more energized while away to feeling lost once back at home. Like returning from abroad, I am once again at a juncture: do I resume business as usual, do I go away again, or do I figure out how to incorporate the life I had elsewhere into the life I have at home to create a new way of going forward?
I recently read an article Cate Brubaker of SmallPlanetStudio.com wrote for Meet, Plan, Go!– a website for those interested in taking a career break to travel. ‘How to Make Processing Part of the Re-Entry Process’ discusses some of the issues people may face once they return from career breaks. (What she talks about applies to students returning from abroad, too.) Brubaker states that the reason people have a tough time readjusting to being home is not a lack of newness at home, but the fact that the travelers have changed and are themselves new.
Brubaker suggests that taking the time to sift through and process the emotions, thoughts, and questions that arise during this re-entry period will only be of benefit in deciding how to proceed with their lives. “Meeting this challenge head-on,” she writes, “is one of the best gifts you can give yourself because no matter what you decide to do in the future, you’ll bring your true self.”
When I returned from spending a semester in the Netherlands, I needed someone to tell me that what I was experiencing was typical and to guide me through such a process as Brubaker recommends. Instead, I sort of floundered around until I found a couple of activities that aided in my re-entry by combining my life abroad with my life in the US.
In an effort to avoid floundering this time, I plan on taking Brubaker’s advice, process what I’m feeling now and ask myself “which aspects of my travels made me feel the most alive, engaged, and empowered.” I am hoping that my answers to these questions will help me to manage the transition between the old me and the to-be-processed new me.
Perhaps I’ll pick up new hobbies or take a cooking class or start/join a community group. Perhaps it will be little changes in habits that are required for me to feel the balance of old and new. Perhaps I’ll decide to travel again. Whatever the outcome, I know I’ll have at least taken the time to find my way to it and know that it is right for me…until the next trip.
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.