Wednesday, 28 September 2011

It’s a dream, but there’s a real world waiting

Skype me!
Poor blog. I did sort of abandon you (again). In my defence, I also keep a regular journal and travel journal, then there’s my short stories to think about. And Facebook and Twitter and texting and emails… It’s easy to get distracted. I think back to when I used to write as a kid and it seems so much easier without all the technology. Don’t get me wrong, I still typed everything out (though thankfully my early stories, which read as something like a Last of the Mohicans-Friends hybrid – I know, hard to think how that would work, most likely because it didn’t – have long since disappeared into the ether) but I tended to just write for hours and nothing else. So I am blaming the internet for distracting me from my internet journal.

Since my last entry, I descended into finals madness, complete with dreadlocking hair, terrible outfits and the inability to eat and sleep regularly. It was NOT pretty. The effort that students put in at Carolina is inspiring, but honestly, I’m so happy to slump back to UEA and know I only have to go in two days a week. I like the independence of UK education. Fewer contact hours does feel like we’re getting cheated in some ways, but I much prefer getting to structure my own days, choosing what books I’m going to read, what topics I’m going to write about, when my deadlines are going to be. Sometimes at UEA it can feel like I’m drifting into empty space, nothing obstructing me but nothing guiding me. Carolina just felt like a circus. However, I jumped through the last set of hoops and packed up my things, then got on a plane headed to New Orleans.

Where shit gets really crazy. I recommend taking up yoga before you go, so that you can practise your cleansing breath for the moment(s) you think you're about to die.

 I would LOVE to bore you with every single great story from my travels, but I know that this is never fun for anyone else so I will restrain. Instead, have a list of everywhere that I went: New Orleans, LA; Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Park City, UT; San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Laguna Niguel, CA; Washington D.C; New York City, NY; Nashville, TN; Memphis, TN; Oxford, MS; Wilmington, NC. If you plan to travel the US or are heading towards any of these places any time soon please feel free to get in touch. If you want to know where to go I’m going to give a big thumbs up to Austin and San Francisco in particular, but on a previous trip I fell in love with Boston, too. If you have lots of money you need to get rid of please take me with you. You would think that after three holidays, a month of travel on Amtrak, and a year of studying and travelling in the US I would never want to see it again, or at least want to go somewhere else. But what can I say? Despite all its craziness, America is a wonderful place to be. Actually, that’s probably BECAUSE of its craziness. (“If U do not pray God will B angry and U will go 2 Hell where U will burn”, for example. What an inviting sign to have outside a church. Snaps for Wilmington!)

It’s funny, during my year abroad I would constantly worry about how I could possibly respond to people’s questions once I returned home. I learned so much, had great experiences, made lifelong friends and was forced to truly stand on my own two mosquito-bitten feet. But it never felt as perfect or as easy as I thought it would. I don’t in any way regret my decisions, but to say that it was the best year of my life would be disingenuous. It was many things – eye-opening, inspiring, life-changing – but it was never easy, not for a single day. How do you explain all that when someone asks, “How was it?”? The truth is, I’ve not needed to. Other returning year abroad students have found the same; once you are home, people are really not massively interested in what you did whilst away from them. On the one hand it’s great, because I don’t need to attempt to explain things that others couldn’t possibly understand. (I don’t say this to be offensive, I just know that prior to my year abroad I could never have appreciated what these situations would be like.)

On the other hand, it is so difficult to be part of group conversations. I don’t want to bore people with year abroad stories, but how do you talk about yourself without ever mentioning the past YEAR of your life? If I talked purely about my life since returning home, it would be restricted purely to my new job at the Iron House restaurant, the millions of cupcakes I baked, and the fact that I’m nearly finished with Couch to 5k. This sounds like a lot, but… It’s not. If I want to mention being back at UEA, it feels a little strange right now because I’ve been on a year abroad. I’m working on my dissertation which I started on my year abroad. My friends Jess and Faye visited Norwich last weekend – I met them on my year abroad. Also, now you mention it, I got a new job because I left Starbucks to go on my year abroad, I started baking cupcakes because I tried so many on my year abroad, and Couch to 5k became highly necessarily after I ate everything in sight on my year abroad. So you see my predicament.

Aside from this, home is very good. The first couple of months were hard, as I tried to adjust to being back but with nothing being the same. Most of my UEA friends have graduated or left Norwich entirely, I live in a different house, and not to mention I am a fourth year. That sounds unbelievably old! But the positives do outweigh the negatives. After such an intensely difficult year at Carolina, I feel relieved to be somewhere familiar. And overall, I would say that I just feel… relaxed. When I left for Carolina about 13 months ago, I was a perfectionist to the end. I worried about everything, from my grades to my weight to other people’s opinions. Once you have failed a module, ceased to fit into your jeans and had everyone around you treat you like crap, a few slots down from perfect does not seem so bad. So long as I’m learning lots, am generally in good health and have a group of people around to eat my cupcakes I know I can and will be happy. Self-actualisation, all for the price of a plane ticket to America!

All that remains for me to say now is… What shall I do with this blog? I’m home now, after all, no longer in the Land of the Free. But I do have a few things still to come, I think. I am, of course, still an American Studies student, and writing a dissertation about the South. I also feel as though my dealings with America are far from over. At this point, I have no idea whether I will pursue American Studies in a postgraduate context or not. I don’t know if I will be able to work or study out there again. I do know that I will keep in touch with the incredible Americans who made me a welcome guest in their country. I will continue to think fondly of my experiences travelling. And take many more trips there again and again.