As classes resume after the spring and Easter breaks, campus has been flooded by tanned, refreshed students. It is almost certain that, while walking across campus, you will overhear a conversation between these individuals that sounds something like this: “Hey! How was [insert tropical-location-where-the-drinking-age-is-18 here].” I myself am one of these people, though unfortunately am not so much tanned as peeling. I had the good fortune of being able to spend five days with my friends in sunny Puerto Rico during spring break, and it was a wonderful trip.
I bring this up because, for me, Puerto Rico was more than a much-needed dose of sunshine and relaxation. It was my first time traveling since returning from a semester abroad in Florence. My arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport for the 5 a.m. San Juan-bound departure felt much like seeing an ex-boyfriend for the first time since breaking up; it was strange and somewhat disarming to consider where and who I was the last time I had been there, compared to where and who I am now.
To my surprise, upon our arrival in Puerto Rico, things felt strangely familiar; It was just like being abroad again. I had the exhilarating freedom to traverse the unknown with my friends and to revel in an independence tempered only by my ever-shrinking wallet. I had never been to Puerto Rico, and it was a beautiful island to discover. On our first day, we wandered the sloping, rambling cobblestone streets of el Viejo San Juan, the historic colonial quarter of Puerto Rico’s capital city.
After a few days of relaxing at the beach, we decided to go on another adventure. Led by our friend who grew up in Puerto Rico, we drove for an hour into the forest to the Rio Arriba so that we could hike along a trail to a picturesque waterfall. Again, things felt quite the same as they had when I was living in Florence. As our group of friends scrambled over rocks and waded through streams – slipping, falling and pulling each other up – I couldn’t help but remember the hike we embarked on in Split, Croatia. These experiences have shown me the immense capacity that exploring a foreign space offers for bonding with people, whether you are studying abroad or simply vacationing.
In encountering the unfamiliar, you are forced to let your guard down, be yourself and trust fully in those around you. This is why so many people who return from studying abroad highlight the relationships that they built when they tell people about their experience; the importance of maintaining these special relationships is one of the many things that I have realized since coming back to Georgetown.
The differences between being abroad and being on campus were thrown into relief by my spring break trip to Puerto Rico, which was rather inconvenient considering that I’ve spent the past half semester readjusting to Georgetown. The ailments of abroad withdrawal — having to find summer subletters, being slammed with midterms, networking for internships and exterminating the mice in Henle — have been partially alleviated by the arrival of beautiful weather — and more importantly, the farmers’ market — but I have yet to find a substitute for the rush of getting on a plane and lifting off in the air, leaving the stress of “real life” behind me. Nor have I found the same liberation of landing in a new place and knowing that, as I walk down the jetway, I have a clean slate in front of me.
So far, my column has discussed how studying abroad has inspired me to change how I live life, but this week I’m wondering: are there ways in which my experience could be negative? Is studying abroad just a form of escapism? There is an element of travelling that does offer you the chance to run away from your problems. But, as I learned from hiking in two places that couldn’t be more different, there is also an element that offers you the chance to be fully honest with yourself. The value of studying abroad lies in striking a balance between escaping and experiencing.
Elizabeth Harvey is a junior in the College. ABROAD WITHDRAWAL appears every Friday.
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