“To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. And, subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo.” Zeami Motokiyo
“Discuss your preparations to go abroad – how you are feeling, anxieties or excitements, last minute projects or plans you are making, etc.” UR OIE
How do I feel about going abroad? I think this question is a little vague. I’m fairly confident that the UR Travelogue coordinator is referring specifically to the four months I will spend at the University of Otago in NZ working toward my Biology degree when he says ‘abroad’, but after several months (and in some cases, years) of students and OIE faculty throwing around the term, it’s difficult to nail down a precise definition.
If returning students and previous travel bloggers are to be believed, ‘abroad’ means ‘the best semester of college’ and ‘learning and growing’ and ‘OMFG amazing’ in so many words. If the OIE is the defining authority, then ‘abroad’ means ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘horizon broadening’ and ‘a lot of paperwork’. Even friends and family (individuals keenly aware of my specific plans) reduce ‘abroad’ to banalisms like ‘so much fun’ and ‘independence’ and ‘legally imbibing alcohol’.
‘Abroad’ has been consistently built up over the past months to mean all of these things, and while I believe everyone’s definitions come from a genuine source (perhaps from their own life-changing international study experiences, and their desires for me to have the same), I think it’s impossible for these definitions to truly encompass the ‘study abroad experience’. Each seems a little too trite to be true, and with students attending programs around the world, ‘abroad’ cannot possibly begin to define the experiences of every student.
So it’s quite difficult for me to pin down exactly how I feel about ‘abroad’. I think I’ve decided I don’t feel much about it at all. ‘Abroad’ is going to just sort of happen to me. And that’s the way I’d prefer it.
My preparations for abroad have been almost entirely practical, concentrating on packing my backpacks, leaving behind any definitional baggage that could serve as a template or filter for my experience. A laundry list of expectations will only serve to make me anxious, distance me from the present moment, and prevent me from truly marveling at my experience. A constant stream of ‘is this the best semester I’ve had so far?’, ‘am I experiencing enough cultural exchange?’, ‘am I taking enough advantage of my ability to legally imbibe?’ will prevent me from experiencing what it truly means to ‘go abroad’.
That being said, if I have any hopes for abroad, it’s that my friends, family, and the OIE turn out to be entirely right. I want to return in December to find that the only way to fully describe my experience is ‘OMFG it was so awesome’. I want the trite travel-bloggisms to be true. I want an experience so complex and amazing that I am reduced to spewing positive unintellectual platitudes upon my return, and really and truly mean them.
But in the mean time, this blog will be concerned with the experience as it happens, free from definitional filters and expectations. It may be occasionally trite. It may sarcastically spite its own triteness. Above all, I hope it will be an honest and entertaining accounting of my experience. You’ll get a sense of how I feel about my own personal ‘abroad’ along the way.