Musings and Jitters
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door….You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien
It was not much more than a year ago that I sat in the study abroad office at Austin College listening to an advisor list all the wonderful places I could travel. The possibilities were endless and I decided without hesitation or fear that I would study abroad in Northern Ireland. Now, however, as I face the reality of boarding a plane (“going out my door”) and leaving everything that is familiar to me–for an entire semester–I must admit that I am hesitant, and even a bit fearful of where I might be “swept off to”.
In a way, preparing to study abroad is similar to leaving for college the first time. I’ve done research, applied, and been accepted; I’ve shared the news with family and friends; I’ve read preparation guides, made packing lists, and had the occasional nervous break-down. I’ve had to prepare myself for a new way of living and I’ve had to face saying good-bye to my friends–at least for a time. However, Austin College is only a forty-five minute drive from my father’s home, from the city where I lived from kindergarten through high school graduation. When I did eventually leave for college, I knew that the familiarity of home was only a short drive away. Not so whilst studying abroad. Next semester everything that is familiar will be 4400 miles away, 7100 kilometers.
Don’t misunderstand me; I am also very excited. Dreams of the Irish countryside fill my head in every spare moment and I can hardly wait to see with my own eyes places I’ve read about in books or seen in movies. Thanks to IFSA-Butler, I’m not particularly afraid of culture shock (though I know I will experience it). I’ve spent hours reading pamphlets they’ve sent and books they’ve suggested about the history and customs of Northern Ireland. On one level, the more I learn about Northern Ireland, the more I realize just how little I know; however, I also become more exhilarated with the idea of learning all that I can firsthand. What gives me the “jitters,” though, is the idea of being away from my friends and family. To make the distance more manageable, we will use the wonders of modern technology; email, Facebook, iMessage, and especially Skype will bridge the gap, so to speak.
As the reality of studying at Queen’s University Belfast approaches, less than three weeks away, I realize that I am not so much afraid of boarding the plane for Northern Ireland as I am for leaving my loved ones in the terminal. It would be dishonest to say that I am completely confident in my abilities to thrive in an unknown setting, but I am excited to take the plunge, so to speak. And I can’t help but wonder what exactly I will find when I step of the plane and into a new world.
So, I agree with Bilbo’s warning to Frodo of the dangers of stepping out your door. But I believe, there are some places worth being swept off to. And I intend to see as many of them as I can.