Letters from Abroad

The Prequel

I’m the last Dickinsonian standing, or at least that’s how it feels as I wait to join my fellow juniors abroad. My friends from home have gone back to their own colleges, and are by now caught up in their lives at school. This summer has been the longest I’ve ever experienced–the long, lazy days of sleeping late, Netflix and reading outside aren’t over for me yet. As much as I’m enjoying my bonus month of summer, I feel kind of out-of-bounds–my parents are at work and my sister is back in school, and I’m still working my summer job in the middle of September. I can’t wait for September 30th, when I’ll finally head across the pond and begin my abroad experience.

I’ll be spending the next nine months at Oxford University as part of Mansfield College’s Visiting Student Programme. I’ve had plenty of time to process the idea that I’m going to Oxford. But when people ask me where I’m going abroad (and why I’m still hanging around in the middle of September) I’m always a little surprised to hear the words “I’m going to Oxford” come out of my mouth. It’s official–and I’ve got the course list to prove it–but with less than two weeks until my departure, I still haven’t caught up with reality.

As the cliché goes, these last couple of weeks seem like nothing, but also feel like they’ll stretch out infinitely. It’s the magical time when I’ll manage to pack my life into a suitcase, complete the preparatory reading I’ve been assigned, and do all the little pre-departure tasks that I’ve been making obsessive lists about all summer. Speaking of lists! In the spirit of abroad preparation, I’ve compiled an Oxford Master List (actual title) in the Notes app on my phone (so I can add to it on the go, of course!), and have detailed everything from where to buy household items to which toiletries I’m going to pack and which I’ll buy when I get to England.

Detailed as my logistical preparations are, I’m beginning to realize that all my plans and lists are just ways for me to feel in control of all the uncertainty that comes along with studying abroad. The piece of advice that really stuck in my mind from the abroad prep session was to “embrace uncertainty” and to “get comfortable with discomfort” (probably not exact quotations, but you get the idea). At that point, I’d been advised to “stay flexible!” and “keep an open mind!” so many times before and during the application process that I internalized the mantra and assumed that I already was “comfortable with discomfort.” Wrong. As my departure date gets closer, I get less comfortable with all the unknowns, but that’s okay. All my accumulated discomfort will give me something more interesting to write about in my next column! And, of course, I want to have adventures during my time abroad, which won’t happen if everything is perfectly planned.

Two weeks from now, I’ll have joined the rest of my lovely juniors abroad, and I’ll have more to share about packing, uncertainty, and of course, OXFORD. In the meantime, here’s to embracing change, new adventures and fitting everything into my suitcase!