Studying abroad is supposed to be self-indulgent. That’s part of the point. It does entail cross-cultural exchange and a growing awareness of the self in relation to a larger other, but for the most part, study abroad is marketed as a site of self-discovery and growth. We can tell this a bit from who tends to study abroad. Nationally, those who study abroad are overwhelmingly white women studying the humanities (a category I neatly fit into). Vassar works hard to make international travel accessible to students from a range of economic backgrounds, but going JYA still necessitates that a student can take a semester off from their on or off campus job(s), and tends to have an overrepresentation of wealthier students.
Abroad is a luxury, though, not just because it’s expensive, but because it’s time where you’re allowed, and encouraged, to think a lot about how you’re growing as a person. My time abroad was difficult and overwhelming to be sure, but it was a time when I got to experience a huge range of emotions and had the time and tools to process them. This made blogging easy. My Far and Away posts tumbled out of me in part because at any given time, I was overflowing with feelings.
This post is not doing any tumbling. I am dragging this post across a page it would rather hide from. I, of course, have feelings at Vassar, but they don’t sit just below my skin waiting to spill onto any pages. They’re buried under readings and overdue essays about arcane literary topics, under concentration on mushy Deece rice to avoid the fact that at any given time, five of the people near you in the dining hall have seen you naked.
Vassar students are great at talking about self-care and about coping mechanisms and healing practices, and in no way do I want to scoff at that. It’s an amazing way that we learn here to take care of ourselves and each other. But here this conversation so often centers around getting through our feelings so that we can be productive at what really matters again, rather than on admitting that exploring our own feelings is part of the goal of college. Abroad I journaled every day. Sometimes with my friends, sometimes alone, but I religiously documented thoughts and/or feelings every day. At Vassar that has lapsed.
Whenever anyone asks how it is to be back I, along with every other returning junior, say “Weird! Good, but weird.” I’ve said this so many times it no longer sounds like words. Did it ever? What does it even mean to feel “weird”? Should I delve into what it means to re-immerse myself in a place that I call my home despite its moving on and changing while I left it? Probably. But I have three essays to write.