Almost six months ago, I sat down in my Southern Californian living room and wrote a blog post about leaving for Oxford. I was absolutely terrified; I had no idea what to expect — I had never been gone from my home for longer than a few weeks at a time, never travelled alone internationally before, never thrown myself into something so absolutely foreign (in more ways than one) to my life in California, at APU, as a film student.
It’s intentional on OPUS’s part to keep us in the dark before coming here, and while I can appreciate that in hindsight, when I was anxiously preparing for this experience, I was angry and nervous and not at all appreciative of the secrecy. Nevertheless, in that blog post, written so long ago, I vowed to throw myself into the void with an open mind.
Here’s to trusting the unknown to change my life in spectacular (or unspectacular) ways that will make Future Kristy shake her head and smile and say, “If only she knew the great things to come.”
I feel a lot of feelings when I read that back now. Oh, Past Kristy, if only you knew! If only you knew how you would fall in love with this place, how it would become more of a home to you than any other city you’ve lived in so far. If only you knew how you would learn to truly love yourself here, for all your weird quirks and embarrassing tendencies. If only you knew the kindred spirits you would find here — people who would teach you to believe in love again, and to unashamedly tackle existential questions armed with Beyonce lyrics and fine-winged eyeliner.
Oh, Past Kristy, you know how you always wish you could write poetry but rarely find the inspiration? That will change here. You’ll find yourself going on long walks, losing your anxiety in the midst of a vast, indefatigably interesting universe — both physical and imaginary — that is bursting at the seams with anticipation for you to discover it.
You’ll embarrass yourself. You’ll trip over a step in front of the Oxford Union, busy with intelligent future-world-rulers, falling hard on your knees and ripping your favorite tights. You’ll talk about the weather with a barista at your favorite cafe, forget the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius, and accidentally tell him it’s 167 degrees in back in California.
You’ll feel a lot. You’ll feel happy and sad and heartbroken and euphoric and intelligent and stupid and witty and ignorant — often all within the same day. You’ll learn to share more of these transient emotions with the people around you. You’ll learn that vulnerability isn’t always a bad thing.
You’ll garner a stronger appreciation for public transportation and walking. You’ll fly, train, bus, metro, run, escalate your way through Europe. You’ll say goodbye to a lot of people and places, perhaps too soon, and realize the heart is a regenerating organ. If you give it away bit by bit, in the most beautiful, deserving ways possible, it will find a way to grow back. Love breeds love. Adventure breeds adventure. Appreciation for the daffodils plants a whole garden in your mind.
You’ll realize how insignificant you are. How even people you disagree with can say intelligent things, and even people you love can be rude and asshole-ish. You’ll learn that criticism isn’t a reflection of your character, and that sometimes in an argument, both parties are just fighting to be understood.
In the end, you’ll be just as terrified leaving this place as you were coming into it.
Isn’t that strange? Even now, after all I’ve learned, after all the personal growth and mind-opening, I’m still the same person, afraid of the unknown. I’m afraid to go back to California and slowly, imperceptibly forget the details of Oxford. I’m afraid of the day I look back and can’t remember the names of my old hangouts, the paths I wandered through most, the faces of the strangers who sat by me in the library. I’m afraid to battle the heat of California, the drought, the unwelcome solitude bred from distance. I’m afraid of falling out of touch with people I grew close to here; I’m afraid of my own frailty, my own tendency to let geographical closeness dictate the strength of my relationships.
I’m afraid of the all too common post-study-abroad questionnaire: “How was Oxford?” “What did you learn?” “I bet it was just great, wasn’t it?”
Because how do I respond? How do I encompass everything this city, these six months, the people I’ve met here have taught me in a brief, crowd-pleasing answer suitable for family parties?
Oxford was fun. I learned a lot. Yeah, it was so, so great!
It’s all true, of course. But it’s so watered down I’m afraid I’ll lose the actual taste of my experience the more I allow myself to answer with vaguely affirmative adjectives.
So really, how was Oxford?
It was ordinary. It was composed largely of meadow exploring and cappuccino drinking. It was old buildings covered in neon metal scaffolding. It was reading and procrastinating and essay writing and late nights and Wednesday markets and spotty wifi and chip trucks and crazy-haired book sellers and london stouts and calloused feet and tourists with selfie sticks.
So really, what did you learn?
I learned about the transience of success. That sad stories shouldn’t provide happy endings, but rather the hope of new beginnings. That problems we deal with today have existed for centuries before us. That poetry is the beautiful lovechild of black holes and spiderwebs. That the Bronte siblings probably wrote about every emotion I’ve ever experienced. That Augustan literature is much more promiscuous than I imagined. That broad generalizations are the devil. That stouts are better than ales. That everything is temporary — happiness, sadness, love, location, life.
So really, was it great?
It was. It really, truly was. But not just because of the dreamy spires, the British accents, or the 32 reasons listed on buzfeed. It was great because I lived a full life here — because the daily nothings amounted to daily everythings that turned my ordinary existence into something deeply satisfying.
I hope I won’t lose all of that when I leave here in 5 days. I hope — and don’t get me wrong, I am SO ready to see my parents again!! — but I hope it hurts when I go home. I hope my breakup with Oxford is painful and real, so much so that I will post pining facebook statuses about it for a long time to come (this, hopefully, the first of many). And I hope, in desperation, that in the future we will meet again, Oxford and me, and smile as old friends, perhaps not as close as we once were, but aware of the all-too-fleeting romance we had in that spring of 2015.