Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Martin’s Travel Blog: My English adventure begins

Posted on September 15, 2014 in Perspectives
By martinconte

This past June a friend of mine, who had steered a ship across the Pacific using celestial navigation, pointed out the cycle of the stars across the sky. The path of the stars is something I have always known about, a fact stored from some second grade lesson in astronomy, but I had never been truly aware of it until that night. Every fifteen minutes, we would gaze up from the beach campfire, and I would marvel at the changing skyscape. It seemed as if change was occurring in its different shapes all around me: the fire burned into carbon gas, the skin on our bodies died slowly, the tide followed the moon in its path. Now, as I prepare to embark on a semester-long excursion into Southern England, I find myself acutely aware of this sort of change. Each summer, I have returned to my parents’ home in downeast Maine, and old friends have fallen into place around me, somehow exactly the same as they were years ago, and yet also irrevocably changed. Like looking into the night sky hour by hour, their faces are weathered by new storms, storms in other states and countries, storms I have not faced at their side. Now, it is my turn to be weathered by new storms.

There are a myriad of steps and procedures you pass through on your way to a study abroad program. First, I learn that in British English, program is spelled programme. Courses are called modules, and majors are called courses. Same language, new formulas. I try to buy airfare three times, and each time some new roadblock is erected in my way: a missing debit card, a bank procedure postponing the purchase, a chosen flight overbooked. I do a test run of packing, and have to make the agonizing choice of which tweed jacket will fit in the bottom of my suitcase.

Each of these steps are taken in my family home, on my personal computer, lying in bed or sitting on the couch. They are somehow distinct and distant from the actual idea of speaking english with the English, or stepping onto the plane, or unpacking in a new dormroom. The very idea of leaving won’t occur to me until I step into the airport, this I know. Right now, it is only an abstraction, that I turn over and over each day. I reduce the prospect of this journey into a few canned responses to relatives’ and friends’ inquiries: “I’m really excited,” “it’s definitely going to be an adventure,” “I’m looking forward to the change.” Truth be told, though I have a course schedule, a dorm room, and a bus ticket, I literally have no idea what I’m doing, what storms I’ll face, and who I’ll face them with.

It’s daunting. It’s thrilling. It’s unreal. But it happens, almost of its own accord. While in England, I will be changed, I’m sure. And all my friends, my professors, my university, my city, they will all change, too. Change is a daunting process. But without it, what is there? I recently read an article bemoaning how nobody understands the change that occurs to someone when they travel. It frustrated me, because I recognize the change happening to everyone, regardless of circumstance. When I see you in the halls of Luther Bonney come January, we’ll both be different. I look forward to that change in you.

So let this blog be a document of that change. Let me look back on this first post and think, “gosh, how different I was.” Send me your stories of change, and I’ll share them. Tell me what you want to see in England, and I’ll try to show you; as long as you promise to keep my Portland safe!

Like a star in the sky, I’m unaware of my own trajectory, I don’t know where in the galaxy I’ll end up. But knowing that we’re all changing together, in our own constellations, in our own galaxies, is a comfort. I look forward to seeing the north star rise over a new hill, and maybe a beach campfire with a new constellation of friends. I’ll keep you posted.

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