Perhaps more interesting than revelations that I am messy (no real story there) or that I am a pack-rat (strangely, despite my idea to bring one bag of stuff home and leave it this summer, I am finding myself convinced that I can't part with ANYTHING that I have here. "You never know when you are going to need (insert item that I haven't used all year here)...", have been the reflections of my last "big pack" nine months ago. I don't know if my mind has been completely transformed by Hollywood, but packing has been a movie-like experience, I'll pick up an object that I packed in September of last year and be transported back to the expectations (and usually fears) that accompanied that object. I remember how careful I was to try to pack things in a way that they wouldn't get wrinkled and how much anxiety went into every outfit selection in DC as I was certain that this weekend would determine whether or not I had ANY friends for the year.
I remember channeling my nervous energy into diagramming and strategically packing my bags in such a way that all of the things that I needed those first few days would be on top. And then realizing up on arriving that I had failed miserably on that task and that I was sharing a hotel room that was definitely based on principles of "efficiency" (the last encounter with efficiency I would have for a while) with a roommate and our four huge (ok, mine were huge, hers were large) bags.
I was sure I hadn't brought the right things--based mostly on the assumption that a world of curveballs awaited me. The "unknown" of all of it had my stomach in knots, my mind reeling, and my whole body on the look out for the pending disaster.
And as I repack all the items that were assembled in preparation for an unknown world (of England, but also of academia), the mysterious has been demystified, the unknown is revealed, and the anxiety of that preparation almost seems comical. Almost.
After all, the fears, while exaggerated, were real. And the challenges, while manageable, have been real too.
Academically, there were a few points when I certainly felt like a fish out of water, but I have finally learned to be at least amphibious moving between what I would call the real world and the "real world" of graduate studies.
I was afraid that I would be culturally lost. And I remember the strange looks that I got when I arrived in the academic office of my college on that first day stupor of a few hours of sleep and I was almost whispering to the women who worked there. I didn't want to be "the loud American". So instead, I was probably just the weird American. And look at me now. I march into that same office in sweatpants and embrace my cultural differences.
But I wasn't afraid that I might not make friends. I was fairly convinced that I wouldn't. And that has been the most pleasant surprise. Certainly, the early days were challenging in that regard as I struggle to move from numerous enjoyable acquaintances to meaningful friendships, but the journey has been remarkably rewarding. And just as I am getting ready to (finally! get to) come "home", my conception of home has been disrupted yet again. Because "home" is ultimately about the "who", and while I certainly look forward to being home, there is a part of me that has finally become at home here that will be "away from home" at the same time. And that is a beautiful thing.
Man, am I looking forward to it (ridiculous weather aside). Now, I just need to pass my exams so they let me come back next year (and don't make me come back this summer to retake them)!