When people find out that you’re studying abroad, the first question they ask (after asking where you’re going) is: “Are you excited?!”. Like a dutiful child, you are absolutely expected to answer in the affirmative, regardless of what your actual feelings may be.
Let me tell you something: I haven’t been excited about studying abroad (genuinely excited, that is) since I made this harebrained decision (to go to a country where I don’t speak the language, the classes have nothing to do with my major, and where I know nobody. Oh, and have I mentioned that I get homesick easily, that I’m a picky eater, and that I don’t handle change very well?!). Nonetheless, like a good girl, I have been answering the “are you excited” question in the affirmative for what feels like months. And then, when 5:00 on Monday morning rolled around, all I could feel was terrified. I’d been feeling worried, and anxious, and at times vaguely nauseous for the past several days, but nothing really quite compared to what I woke up to on Monday, which was literally terror. I have traveled out of the country before, but never by myself, and always my first stop has been to a place where English is the most common language. As I got my breakfast together, I managed to pull myself together, mostly out of sheer necessity. I talked to my cat, held her, petted her, and generally squeezed her until she squirmed because I worry about how she handles my transitions. I wanted her to know and to remember that I love her, and that she is precious to me. Once I got my teeth brushed, I threw my last remaining toiletries into my backpack and ran down the stairs to say goodbye to my mom – my dad would be driving me to the airport.
In a valiant effort not to cry, I simply listened as she told me how much she loved me and how proud she was of me – it really gets me when they tell me that they’re proud. After choking out a goodbye, my dad and I got into the car and drove off in the snow to DIA. There, we parked, and for the first time, my dad not only walked me to check-in and waited with me while I got my bags ready, but walked me to security, where I had to say goodbye to him – this was possibly even harder, because I could tell he was fighting tears as much as I was. Everything from there was a blur – walking through security, wrestling with my laptop, my shoes, my liquids (how do people do this on a regular basis?!), and getting to my gate. I spent most of the plane ride asleep, listening to my same mix that I made back in November when I was not a mess (I’ve been a mess more or less since Thanksgiving break). When I landed in LAX, I was lost. I have never been to that airport (I ended up with AutoTune the News’s “Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Wife” because of a comment I kept thinking to myself, which was my distraction from my impending terror), and finally was able to find a kind soul who could tell me that not only was I in the wrong terminal, but that I had to leave, walk quite a ways, and then go back through security in order to get to my gate. Knowing that my plane boarded in thirty minutes was not a cheerful thought.
Nevertheless, I was able to get to Terminal 3, get through security, refill my nalgene, and blessedly, find some of the other SFS kids (I scorned wearing my t-shirt, but I was so glad that they had worn theirs!) As soon as I saw them and talked to them, some of my fears abated (like those that I would never find friends, or that I would hate everyone, or that they would hate me – the really rational fears that go through your head when you know that you will not know anyone in your school, and be around the same seventeen people for three months…). We boarded the plane together, and prepared for the final flight.
When we landed in La Paz, I saw a roadrunner outside of my window – I haven’t seen one since I was very young and my dad did field work in Arizona, and I took it as a good sign. I got through immigration without a problem (and without having to speak any Spanish, thank heavens!) and found both of my bags very quickly. Then came customs, and a long wait at the airport, during which time I managed to get to know some of the other students a little bit. It turns out that we were all spending the night in La Paz (you can’t drive at night in La Paz because so many cows roam freely and it’s so hard to see them that it’s a danger to all involved). We reached our hotel, having met the same people we would room with for the rest of the semester, and went out to dinner. As soon as we got to dinner, we encountered one of the things I know will be a challenge for me – stray dogs. We aren’t supposed to touch them because many of them have fleas, and we have no idea what their rabies status is; this is already so hard for me.
After dinner, we made it back to the hotel, where I crashed quite quickly.
In the morning, we had breakfast before starting out for San Carlos, the city where I will be located for the next three months. The drive is about four hours, including a stop and some slow driving through the two major towns you travel through. The countryside is barren – much more so than I expected. There are a number of cacti (saguaros? I’m not sure!), but very little other vegetation. As we got closer and closer to the coast, we started to see some beautiful osprey – but very few other animals.
We spent most of our afternoon at the field site, where we talked about expectations and safety. It seemed like it dragged on forever, but I’m also not sure how it got to be almost 9:00. I am very tired – much more so than I was last night, and I’m disheartened. I like the people with me on this semester, but I am also incredibly homesick. When I got out my sheets, the smelled like home, and all I wanted to do was go back to Colorado, or even to Washington. I think this will be a hard transition for me, especially since no one else seems to be feeling as uncertain as I am.