Moving abroad for college – what could possibly go wrong?
Once upon a time, there was a 19 year-old girl, who didn’t fit in. She was very aware of this, and was ready to try anything to change it.
So, she decided that a very clever thing to do would be to take off to Cyprus on Erasmus, for a full academic year.
She also decided to do this alone, having never lived away from home before (apart from a brief stint in Boston for the J1 but that was a whole other ball game), having never been to Cyprus before, and without a word of Greek. What could possibly go wrong??
Running to change
Turns out you can’t actually run away from yourself, even more so when you don’t really know why you’re running in the first place.
From the minute I left Dublin, until the minute I came home with my tail between my legs a mere week later, it all went horribly and completely wrong. I had had the lofty aspiration that travelling would change me.
I didn’t know how, or in what way, but I felt full sure that I could only come back a better, more interesting, more well adjusted person.
Someone who would have a story to tell, confident and self-assured. In short, someone who was the complete polar opposite of me.
I don’t remember much about the preparation for going, but my God do I remember what happened once I was on my way.
The tears started before ever we left Dublin (I say we, because my folks, with remarkable foresight, had sent my sister with me for the first week to help me settle in. I shudder to think what would have happened had she not been there).
I think we had an overnight in an airport somewhere en route. I’m not sure where, although I do remember sitting outside, in the dark, waiting, with a very real sense of dread building in me.
Trying to settle in
This only got worse when we landed. For various reasons, I had missed the settling in/introduction to Greece programme. I was allocated an apartment, walking distance from the campus.
But, I was to be staying there alone, which was (one of) my biggest fear(s). Ironically enough, sharing with someone I didn’t know would have had me equally on edge, so things turning out as they did was a bit of a no-brainer.
I don’t remember a lot about that week, but I do remember these few things – I cried, a lot. Not gentle, pretty tears, but the kind that leave you snotty, splotchy, unable to talk for sobbing and with nasty, puffy red eyes.
I was horrifically, unbearably homesick. I had had to bring bed linen, towels etc, and the smell of them so reminded me of home (thank you Persil) that I could barely breathe.
I couldn’t sleep. For the brief intervals when I wasn’t homesick, I was raging. I threw things. Lots of things (at walls I hasten to add). I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for my sister. She was barely 17 years-old, first time away from home and I had pretty much lost my mind.
The rest of the week is a blur. I’m sure there were a lot of phonecalls – to my folks, pleading to let me come home, and to UCD, pleading to let me out of the Erasmus Programme and come back to do my final year.
I’m not sure at what point the decision was made, whether it was by me, my parents or the college, but by the end of that week, I was on my way home.
The relief of getting away from such a horrible situation rapidly turning into an overwhelming guilt that would stay with me to this very day.
Guilt for wasting an Erasmus place someone else could have had, for the upset I had caused, for the financial impact my brief “holiday” had on my family, but mostly because I had failed, utterly and completely. I was going home a worse person than I had left.
Looking back now, I have the luxury of putting some context on it for myself. Had I known then what I know now, well, chances are I wouldn’t have attempted something so completely ridiculous in the first place.
Actually no, I can’t say that with certainty at all. What I can see though, again, is how much boderline personality disorder got in the way that week. What are some of the core issues that cause problems for me? Attachment, abandonment, fear of being alone, depression, emotional instability. Wow.
What chance did I have that it could possibly work out? Starting out alone, in a new country, with a new language is going to be challenging for anyone. But, for someone who could barely cope with the challenge of walking into a crowded lecture theatre? Impossible and that’s before I even begin to consider that I was so far from the safety of my family (let’s not forget this was back in the pre-mobile/Skype era and internet access wasn’t nearly as readily available as it is now).
It’s a time I really don’t like to think about because it was absolutely horrendous. The sense of failure has haunted me for years. I’ve made some stunning mistakes in my time, but that was definitely one of my finer moments.
To add insult to injury, being such novice travellers, we missed our flight home, This was in spite of being in the airport and checked in 2 hours early.
Yes, really. Don’t even begin to try and figure that one out. It happened, we got it sorted, eventually, I added it to the list of epic fails, I came home and went back to college.
It’s with this hindsight that is maybe allowing me the chance to rewrite history, or if not rewrite it, at least revisit it with more compassion.
Can I forgive myself for that insane week? Maybe I don’t actually need forgiveness. Maybe I just needed to realise what was going on. Honestly, I think I might even be a little bit impressed that I managed to get myself home at all.
This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers.