Telling bad stories
It’s easy to tell good stories. It’s hard to tell bad ones.
I stopped updating this blog regularly because things changed quite a lot, and all I had to tell were bad stories. After a weekend trip to Nicaragua turned into one of the most scary, stressful, and exhilarating experiences of my life, I had trouble engaging in my quiet life in Heredia. (That is a great story, which means it’s really hard to tell. It takes two hours of talking or who knows how many days of writing, so I’m not going to tell it here.) My mindset became increasingly negative, so I stopped writing, both because I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear me complaining and because I didn’t know how to express what I was thinking and feeling in a valuable way.
I also felt guilty about not being happy. Here I was experiencing the opportunity of a lifetime, and all I could think about was the ugly stray dogs and the piggish machisto comments. I came to realize that the reasons I regarded my feelings as invalid was because they did conform to the narrative others and I constructed about what a study abroad experience should be like. Aside from lip service to some vague idea of “culture shock,” most talk of studying abroad centers on glowing superlatives. It was an amazing experience. Unbelievable. Life-changing. You’re going to have incredible adventures. I can’t wait to hear all your stories.
“Is it amazing? I must hear all about it. Are you speaking Spanish like a native?” a friend wrote a month ago. I still haven’t answered her, mostly out of confusion. How do I respond if I’m not feeling amazing? If I’m feeling stressed and frustrated and lonely?
And I’m as guilty as anyone else. I just posted a Facebook status thanking my host family for “a marvelous four months.” Marvelous?! Sure, I feel grateful and hopeful and excited now, but that wasn’t the case for all four months. So why did I say that? Because it’s easy. That’s what people want to hear, and what I want to hear. I have a new perspective, having come to the end of my semester, and part of that perspective is obscuring to myself the things I don’t want to characterize my memories.
In a way, I think the difficulty of (some people’s) study abroad experiences is what leads (some of) them to resort to cliched superlatives (myself included). How do you explain that it was the best and the worst and the mediocrest experience of your life? I can’t make sense of it myself, much less explain it to anyone else. Best just to round up to “amazing.”