I go to a school that strays from the normal structure of a college career. At my little Christian university, nearly the entire sophomore class disappears for a year, studying abroad at various locations scattered across the world. These sophomores study, live, eat, sleep (sometimes), and travel together, expanding their horizons as they grow ridiculously close to the other souls who also happened to sign on for life in Italy or China or Switzerland. Then, when it’s all said and done, the sophomores return to campus as juniors, newly minted members of a global community, blending in with the wide eyed freshmen as they attempt to navigate the feel of a campus that seems more foreign than the streets of Argentina or Germany or London.
I am one of those juniors.
Coming into this new year, I fully acknowledged the immense change that I would be encountering. I knew I was going to be forced to choose between friends from freshman year, who had been changing and evolving as much as I had, or friends from my time in the throes of exploration and adventure. I knew I was going to have to adjust to the monotony of classes and everyday life. I knew that I would have to swallow my envy as the class below me embarked and lived the exciting life that had once been mine. I even knew that I would have to prepare for a decline of Instagram likes. Paragliding through the Andes or riding camels in Jordan just cannot be topped by a post with friends getting froyo.
Despite my preparations for normalcy and adjustment, I never expected to feel isolated. I have only been back at school for a week, but it seems as if I am trying to be something I am not. I am posing as a student, as a sorority girl, as someone who is enthralled by the thought of Wednesday chapel. But I’m not. I want to be trekking to Machu Picchu or biking through Amsterdam. After an entire year abroad, I am not satisfied with the simple life that I once rejoiced in. I no longer know where I belong on campus. I’m not even sure if I have a niche, a place. And I’m not quite sure that I want to.
I guess the beauty of not belonging somewhere is that you can belong anywhere. Living an extraordinary life, no matter how temporary or fleeting it may be, leaves you lusting after the unimaginable and incredible. I don’t want to sit in a classroom, scribbling the words of a professor as they labor over irrelevant facts and figures; I long to set my eyes on that which has never been seen. I know that none of us have returned to the mundanity of real life full of joy; we all forgot our hearts on the tops of mountains, in the bustling streets of grand cities, or with the relics of worlds gone by. Though we grew and changed, we did not return whole.
We returned with a greater knowledge of not only who we are, but what we hope to be. We got to see the overarching beauty of the world which surrounds us and succumbed to our insignificance as it swallowed us whole. We came home in pieces, stitched together with the incandescent fabric of the world as we came to know its cracks and corners. We are wholly new people than we were before we hopped on the plane at LAX. The wonders of the planet we call home have forever ignited a passion within us, and I am confident that none of us who have seen such majesty will ever be satisfied with the everyday again.
As the year slips by and we begin to scramble for internships and jobs and interviews and applications, perhaps we can be comfortable with the unknown. Leave our future up to fate, and maybe we can collect our pieces scattered across the globe as we settle into where we belong.