Go to a new place that looks just like the one you came from, but different. Like a clap of thunder, it startles you into the next moment, only the next moment is somewhere not here, but there, and it looks just like the place before only it isn’t. Take some of your things with you, but not all of them. Not most of them. Take your favorite sweater, your favorite shoes, your favorite book, your favorite pictures, to hang up on a concrete wall. Leave your trophies, old t-shirts, scrapbooks, posters, and what is buried in dust beneath your bed. Well, you might actually miss that, but there is not enough time to think about when you might look for it.
Take some of your things with you, but not all of them. Not most of them.
Take your old friends, in your mind, and what they looked like the last time you saw them. They will look like that forever to you, so remember good. Take your brothers and your sisters. Take your mom. Take your dad. They come along, silently.
You are first. You like to be first. You are the first born or you were someone’s first in high school. You were first in college. You’ve also had many firsts. Most last only a moment, like the first time you got drunk, or the first time you got too drunk, or lost your virginity, or stole, or chipped your tooth falling off your bike, or got lost all alone. Or felt a pang of failure. Or victory. But this is a first that lingers. It is the first of traveling alone to a different place, to a foreign language of some kind, no matter what language they speak wherever you might be going.
Where you are going. You have seen pictures, you have heard stories, you have thought quietly to yourself about the exact moment when you told yourself you were in fact moving to a different country, but each time you do, the memory becomes its own and changes itself. So you never really remember when you came to know yourself in this way. You stop worrying about that, you tell yourself, but the thought, once again, lingers.
You pack too many things. You realize this when you get on the plane, but ignore it. You realize it again when you land, but do not admit defeat until you are by yourself in an airport with luggage that is too heavy for you to carry and you become afraid of being the obvious tourist. You sigh and start to panic. You did not expect this, but feel like you should have. You realize that you skipped the part about all the goodbyes, and then think maybe it is better that way.
You meet the people waiting for you at the airport. There is always someone waiting for you at the airport. You go home. No, you go to your new home. No, you go to your new home for _____ months. Your room is small. You have a big window.
You are the first person in your family to go abroad. To live abroad. You don’t know what to say to your parents when you settle in, so instead you talk to the family that came along with you in your mind. I’m here, I made it. You are too afraid to think much of anything else.
Some weeks pass. The streets, they are cobble-stoned, or they are dirt, or they are smoothly paved. They are curvy or they are straight. They follow an easy system of remembering how to get from Point A to Point B, or they do not, and you must spend hours memorizing them. They have yellow lines or none at all. You have begun to memorize those that are constantly in your vicinity, and have left in the morning, on more than one occasion, without knowing where your feet would take you. You feel worldly. No, experienced. No, grown. You get lost, you stumble through to where you want to find yourself. You find yourself in loud places, walking, wandering, wishing. You begin to feel at home and you go places alone. You discover your favorite restaurant in the area that you live. A quiet place in a park, or in a cathedral, or in a coffee shop. You go shopping and buy trinkets in the most isolated corners of the city. You make friends. They are not always locals, but you try. You practice your pronunciation of a new language in the mirror. You are able to take a bus on your own to get from Point A to Point B. When you think you might be lost, or are almost sure that you aren’t, but want to hear it from a stranger’s mouth, you ask the person who is sitting next to you looking straight ahead, is this the right bus to…
You think of your family, who for many years, even before you were born, and even before they were born, has been leading you to this moment, no matter where they might have found themselves, for this moment that they knew they would not share with you. You ask yourself, why am I the one that gets to leave?
The feeling of newness starts to wear off. You have begun to understand how you came to find yourself in _________ city, even if you cannot pinpoint the exact moment you decided to leave everything you knew behind for a little while. You think of your family, who for many years, even before you were born, and even before they were born, has been leading you to this moment, no matter where they might have found themselves, for this moment that they knew they would not share with you. You ask yourself, why am I the one that gets to leave? I tell you, do not ask yourself that question. Instead, you should hop on a bus in _________ city and go to _________ city, _________ miles away from where you live, and wander around, looking. Remember good, it will look that way forever to you.
There are moments in which you are in them that you wish you could share with your mom, or sister, or cousin, or aunt. Or dad, or brother, or best friend. They have never been, you think to yourself, to a place like this, and you wonder if they ever will be. Or if they will understand you when you tell them about it. In these moments, no matter who you are with, you will feel alone, because it is more precious that way. You are on a bus, or a beach, or in your house that is your home for _____ months, or you are in class, or you are on a hill that lets you see beyond only what is in front of you. Or you are on steps, or at a bar, or eating a local food that you know you will miss when you leave. You are reading, or writing, or drawing, or running, or painting, or swimming, or walking, or sitting still. But really, this place looks just like the place you came from, but different. And you wonder how to describe that back home, in so many words.
Danielle Palmieri is a graduate of Connecticut College and studied abroad on IFSA’s Chilean Universities Program in Valparaiso, Chile in 2014. She was a recipient of the First-Generation College Student Scholarship.