Before I left for abroad, I said goodbye to all my friends. I said goodbye to my family, my house, my hometown, and I took an embarrassing number of pictures of my dogs to look at while I was away. After all, I was flying across an ocean to spend the semester in Spain, and I would be far away and out of touch with everyone and everything I loved.
I left home with the semi-romantic, semi-terrifying dream of being far apart and alienated from my American life, of disappearing across an ocean to an unknown locale that carried a here-there-be-dragons mystique in my mind, where I would have adventures that I would describe with great drama and theatrical reenactments when I returned after four long months of exotic exile….
And then I got to Granada and texted my parents via iMessage to let them know I had landed safely. When I got to my host family’s house and began to unpack, I emailed my sister to chide her for stealing my favorite sweater. I got on Facebook and all my friends were online, and I gabbled at them excitedly about how nice my host mom was, how scary and exciting it was to meet all these new people. I Skyped my parents and had them hold my dogs up in front of the screen. If it weren’t for the sheer geography of the situation, I wouldn’t have felt far away at all.
Something about the ease of this connection led me to make an idiotic choice; instead of launching myself wholeheartedly into my very short time in Spain, I lived on the fine line between my two worlds, home and Granada. I deluded myself into believing that I had managed to go abroad while also living in Claremont and not missing a step in the place I had not felt ready to leave–but instead, I became a ghost in both worlds. My idiocy is obvious; if I was so keen to be living my Claremont life, why had I taken the trouble and the expense to go all the way to Spain?
Luckily for me, I was in a place that was so wildly intriguing (where isn’t?) that it became impossible to stay unengaged with the world around me. It drew me out.
And once I started to see what I had been missing, I decided to quit Skyping entirely. I stopped communicating with the same regularity that had governed my first few weeks. My requisite study abroad blog lay abandoned. I stayed in contact with some friends via email, but I saw a distinct difference between Skype and emailing: I could email someone while sitting at a cafe in the middle of the city, whereas Skype required me to ensconce myself in my room and peer at my computer for hours at a time, shutting out the world around me. The unexpected benefit of cutting off the majority of my contact with home was that my homesickness decreased significantly–perhaps I had managed to achieve some sort of “out of sight, out of mind” situation, but whatever the case was, I made better friendships, learned more about the city, and felt more comfortable in Granada then I had originally once I made the choice to disconnect.
It wasn’t just the allure of Granada that drew me out; it was also the unique sense of urgency I began to feel when I was abroad. The funny thing about being abroad is that it’s like life compressed. You have four months to start and live and end a life in a new place, and thus everything has a sense of urgency quite different from life at home, where there’s always a next year (whether that’s a good attitude or not is an argument for another day). Every day I found myself thinking I must go to that cafe tonight or I must talk to that person now because I’m leaving in 100, 30, 9 days…and I might, if I’m unlucky, never come back. It made sitting at a computer talking about doing things instead of going out and doing them seem wasteful.
The choice I made to stay mostly out of touch has not been without its moments of regret and doubt; sometimes, when I talk to people who I spoke to maybe once or even not at all in the past half year, I find myself wondering at the sheer volume of things that have occurred in that time, and question if by virtue of disconnecting myself I have opened a permanent rift. There are stories from abroad that no one but the people who were there with me know, and that I will probably never tell to most of my friends, either because the right question will never be asked or because it will simply slip through the cracks of conversation. Sometimes, I think that’s sad, and I wish I could explain everything about Granada to the people I love, and walk them through every day of my time there. But sometimes I find the mystery of it beautiful. Some of the things that happened are mine and mine alone, and that’s both lonely and lovely.
I am sure there are people who feel that the only way they survived abroad was via the technology which has made it so easy. Perhaps if I had been nursing a long distance relationship, it would have been a different story. But I think that everyone should at least try letting go of home while they’re abroad. Just to see what happens.