Or don’t. It’s your life. That post is a reflection on my semester abroad in London, written for CAPA, the organization I did my program with.
The post below is a bit more stream of conscious, anxiety-riddled, and introspective:
On Thursday, April 30, I awoke with the sun and was led to the Viennese subway by someone I’ve had the honor to call my friend since I was just twelve years old. I stood next to him, clutching my bags, thinking about the fantastic juxtaposition between my European friendships.
Sometimes I think about juxtapositions more than I should…
I came to London essentially knowing no one. A few familiar faces were able to ease my anxiety, but when it comes to knowing a person, I was with 26 strangers.
On our first night in London, we went to the Elephant’s Head, a local pub just around the corner of our flat. We drank English beer and attempted to make friends with each other in order to comprehend the fact that we were living in a foreign country for four months.
At the end of the night, we took this picture (with a cameo from a Welsh couple we met that night):
A month later, we took this picture in Amsterdam:
A month after that, we took this one in Barcelona:
And then this one in Wales:
We had gone from complete strangers to world travelers, friends who knew each other’s quirks, ticks, highs and lows as if they were our own.
On our last night in London, we made our way to the Elephant’s Head once again, to raise a glass to the old haunt that first brought us together. The next morning I awoke at 5 a.m. in order to catch a flight to Greece, where I would spend a week traveling with Jeff, one of my best friends from high school, someone who knew my quirks, ticks, highs and lows all the same.
It’s a funny juxtaposition, four months versus eight years, seeing the world with new friends and old friends alike; it’s one that makes me truly grateful for the gift of friendship.
I think C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival.”
I have no doubt I will travel alone in the future, which is something I only dipped my toes in to while abroad. However, on this first great excursion, it is through others that I learned the most about myself.
I not only have my new study abroad kindred spirits to thank for that:
Or Jeff, who came to visit me in London, and who I visited in Greece and Austria:
But also two of my best friends from home, who sacrificed their spring break to explore London with me:
And my parents, who took time off work to visit their baby boy growing up:
I partly owe the success and wonderment of my study abroad experience to those who I shared it with. That wonderful juxtaposition is a bit easier to riddle out. I generally believe that, near or far, we are often the sums of our influences. So to better understand ourselves, I now believe in the importance of leaving those influences behind (sorry mom and dad, sorry Missouri, sorry Chick-fil-a) in order to sink ourselves into new influences (Hi strangers, ‘ello London, one order of fish n chips please!).
That drowning in new influences is the journey, and one I’m eternally grateful for (if you haven’t yet read my 16 weekly posts from my four-month adventure, you can here)
But now what? I’m back. The journey is over and I’ve come up for air within the old. To keep it living on, my running mind has put itself to work and I’ve reached a place where I can begin to reevalute who I was when I left Missouri, and who I am now that I’m back – what should stay and what shouldn’t, what is vastly important to my make up and what is weighing me down?
I now feel that the story of my (young) life has been cut into two halves, a before and an after. Am I a different person now that I’m back from living the gypsy life I have craved for so long? Yes, I think I am, but I also think it depends on how you define “a different person”.
I could also say: I feel like a fuller version of myself.
It almost feels like a physical weight, like there is more of “me” inside my chest, more to keep me stable, more to keep me standing. My mind has been re-chiseled and better sculpted in order to more accurately see the waking reality around me.
I have become a better observer of the world.
This journey of self-discovery and observation is far from over. Just because I’ve surfed in Wales and biked through Greece, met Grace Helbig and attended the London Book Fair, stared at Venice from the Bridge of Sighs and climbed to the top of Florence’s Duomo, doesn’t mean that I am done seeking my great perhaps.
But honestly, I am horrified that it will all slip away some how, that the memories will fade and the lessons will be unlearned. So please allow me to find solace through writing and list a few of the things I learned while drifting through Europe.
- This world is full of people, and while they are all vastly important in their own right, you must be fierce with those who you allow into your life. Leaving my friends and family behind has taught me who I love and appreciate with fierce loyalty, as well as who loves and appreciates me, and who doesn’t – and how that’s all okay. I find this C.S. Lewis quote, painted on a beam at The Eagle and Child, a pub he, Tolkien, and their writing group The Inklings used to hang out at, to be quite apt:
- The kid who was once horrified to leave his mother’s side is no longer afraid to leave the nest. Living in London taught me that as much as I love St. Louis, I would be okay if I chose to move away from Mom and Dad and take on a big city like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Seattle.
- I have a notorious tendency for creating crazy high expectations. But London taught me that just because I didn’t have a whirlwind romance with a celebrity or a crazy night out like The Hangover, it doesn’t mean that my fantastic experience abroad wasn’t exactly what I needed. There can be perfection in normalcy, and adventure without Hollywood contrivance.
- There is undeniable beauty in new friendships, but there is also an incomparable power in old friendships. It’s okay for people to fade in and out of your life, but there is something special to be said for those who have stuck around through changes and growth.
- I can be hyper-aware of my imperfections that no one notices, but blind to the ones that others do – and I am not alone in this. I am an imperfect human, but everyone else around me is also imperfect. It may sound simple, but understanding unlimited human fallibility through yourself and others takes time. I am not perfect. My best friends are not perfect. My enemies are not perfect. Celebrities are not perfect. Yes, even the likes of Harry Styles and John Green have flaws.
- I don’t have my life figured out. A lot of people don’t. A lot of successful people didn’t. As Hayley William’s sings, and as I had her write for me when I met her last July, “Gotta Let it Happen”. I now understand this so much better. We’re all just trying to figure it out, but you sometimes have to let go of control, and anxiety, in order to let life happen.
- I still have lessons to learn. I don’t have everything figured out, and I probably never will, but over the past four months I feel like I have grown exponentially. And while the future is still horrifying, there is still a great perhaps to live, and I may just be ready for it thanks to London’s lessons.
Yeat’s poem that features the line, “Cast your mind on other days…”, the title of this blog, could just as easily be Paramore’s song Future, so, in typical fashion, allow me to quote my favorite band and say:
“Just think of your future
And think of your dreams.”
“I’m writing the future
I’m writing it out loud”
While I feel partially heartbroken that this fantastic, beautiful, beyond-words journey abroad is over, I am thinking of my future, and thinking of my dreams, and trudging onwards perpetually seeking my great perhaps. And I am thankful.
That being said, I also plan to spend some time reflecting over the past during the next few months. While abroad, in each country I visited, I purchased a copy of a different Harry Potter book in that language – a set of unique souvenirs and a testament to the personal meaning of one of my favorite stories.
So, on this blog I’ll be exploring the different countries I visited (England, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Wales, Greece, and Austria), likely using the book I purchased there as a reference point. I’m not quite sure how the nitty-gritty of it will work yet, but if you like geeking out and reading about travel and misadventures, then I implore you to stay tuned.
Thank you so much for reading.