An Open Letter to Myself Before Study Abroad
You are so different now than you were before, my friend. You were so young, so naïve. You’d been brought up hearing about the bad things in the world and of course you knew that they weren’t just stories… But you’d never witnessed first-hand a significant lack of education. You will learn that there is a difference between ignorance and not-knowing. Ignorance is having access to the knowledge and not taking advantage of it, not reaching your full potential. Not-knowing is not having the resources to access the knowledge, or not being allowed access to it because of your race, gender, or social status. You will love the girls at the shelter outside of Cusco who taught you to appreciate your educational opportunities. And you will wish that you could give them everything that you have and more. You will learn what it is to love a place, then hate it, then love it again… and you’re probably thinking “That’s how I feel about Petersburg” but Petersburg isn’t an 8 hour flight from college is it? There is no way to prepare you for how it feels to miss that place. It will sweep upon you in a torrent of painfully beautiful memories. How it felt to sit in the overgrown grass beside a quinoa field nestled deep in the Andes Mountains, eating food prepared by the locals using techniques that haven’t changed for decades, or maybe even centuries. The people you met and left behind, the world you explored, the country that was at your fingertips. Somehow getting back from study abroad makes the world seem open to you and impossibly far away all at once. You will want to go back and you will find that there is no solace in pining. Prepare yourself to feel alone, my love. Oh how I wish you didn’t have to. But it is such a great gift to miss a place so much it hurts because it means that you have been there. It means that you have lived and loved and participated in a way that many travelers do not. You will have lived in Lima. Not simply visited. There will be streets that you dream vividly of months after you’ve left them far behind. You will realize the difference between remembering and missing. Right now, you think you miss the places that you’ve traveled with your family, and maybe you do. Once you come back from this journey, you will realize that you only remember it because there is no way that the same emotion you feel towards the Grand Canyon trip can be equated to the heart bruising love you feel towards Peru. You will remember how comfortable you felt there in that coffee shop near the end of your stay, confident in your ability to find your way back home and excited at the idea of trying anticuchos with your friends that night. You will scroll through your Facebook and Instagram posts and wonder how it’s possible that you actually did all of that. (Machu Picchu pictures posted 36 weeks ago?? There’s no way) You will look for hours at pictures that you’ve taken and reread all of your blog posts, you will laugh at things that you had forgotten- like the time you abandoned your poncho and stood under an Amazonian rain, or the time you slid down a natural rock slide with the IFSA group at the Sacsayhuaman ruins in Cusco. You will search for ways to go abroad. (FYI, the Peace Corps is right up your alley, pursue it no matter what anyone says). You will want to see the world and you will not understand how other people can be content in not seeing it. Everyone will tell you that you will feel reverse culture shock and that you will miss your friends. No one will tell you that it doesn’t strike all at once, or how the euphoria of being home is lessened because you were home in your host country. No one tells you that anything, everything, or nothing at all will set off another round of homesickness. No one tells you that, or maybe I’m just the only one… and by extension, you. So be prepared. My advice? GO. Do it anyway. Any and all of the pain you will feel about the country you left behind is worth it for the memories, the incredible possibility that traveling and studying abroad will offer you. In the end, this is the greatest gift I can give you. With love and admiration for your bravery, Future You. Taylor Rossi is a student at McKendree University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima, Peru.