Reporters discuss Macron and Trump on the television, a blue banner running beneath their padded-shoulders, gesturing hands and painted lips. It’s the Monday of a three-day weekend, and things are rather quiet here. It is raining.
Two weeks. Blueberry jam and my mother in the other room.
Il ne me reste que deux semaines avant la fin de cette aventure, voire une semaine avant que je vois les gens qui occupaient mon coeur, ma mémoire, l’écran de mon ordi pendant ces dernières dix mois. Je me rappelle du moment où c’était deux mois, et je me rends compte que le moment où ce sera deux jours va bientôt arriver. This realization hurls me through an earthly gateway of time and space, back to a particular occasion…
My cousin and I occupied the kitchen. He was perched atop the counter island, while I leaned against the harsh corners that formed the cabinets, facing him. In my hand I held a glass of water, half full, on the brink of transpiring through its thick, greenish glass body. The top was rimmed in a faded indigo shade.
It was fall; though I could be mistaken. I wonder now if it was actually summer, the world stunned by the high sun and rustled by gentle winds. Or even winter, for I seem to remember being garbed in a loose fitting sweater, my cousin in long pants.
I sipped from my water glass as he spoke. A poignant and vivid inspiration emanated from his entire being. I watched it being released, as I listened; his extended hands morphed to depict his words.
Through his language, we traveled. To Italy, notably, where he had lived, years ago, as a high-school student. Just as I spoke of doing the following year. Though in my case, the setting would be France.
I don’t recall if I had initiated the conversation, or if he had, but nonetheless it was launched and being etched upon my mind as it went. It was a vivid game of persuasion by truth and experience, for it revolved around a debate between two potential durations of time abroad: a semester or a year, six months or ten.
It was becoming time for me, a prospective student, to decide, and yet my loyalty remained stubbornly split between the two periods of time and their respective amalgamations of dreamed-up possibilities.
My foot stuck a bit to the glossy surface of the wooden floor boards as I lifted it and placed it atop the bare skin of the other, just to repeat the process in the opposite direction. This was the fidgeting of a fascinated person, for I was enthralled and hungry for the moment of inspiration that I imagined would dawn upon me, thus determining my future.
I sipped again from the glass of frigid water that I held and noticed that his sat untouched at his side. He was occupied with incarnating the story to which I bore witness, the story not only of the birth of a foreign land, to his eyes, but also that of life in which that very land has grown into a deep set memory.
Here he was before me, this messenger from the world of seekers. And though I remember many of the vibrant images he painted for me of his personal experience abroad, his simple will to advocate for devoting an entire ten months to the creation of them is what still resonates with me the most profoundly. Not being the first to attempt a shift of my inclination, nor the last, he embarked on an explanation of his opinion with a fierce sense of need; for me to understand, for me to see. Yet despite his firm belief, he encouraged me to listen and to draw my own conclusions from the information he could provide. The following was his argument: the first half of a year abroad is spent developing a new life, while the second half is spent living it.
I found myself nodding in agreement. Of all the things I’d been told, all the opinions revealed, all the wisdom imparted and all the tales recounted, this singular concept rang with an unprecedented sincerity. I could not know, at the time, the extent to which this message would ring true.
As I exited the kitchen that night, my path had not yet been determined; I continued to toss around my possibilities, them the resilient vessels, my mind a shifting sea. But that one message, his message, remained with me, its engraving growing ever deeper as the days passed and as the self-debate perpetuated.
That moment of inspiration, the one I had unwittingly anticipated, did not strike me in the singular way one might imagine. Instead, it was a dawning process; I remember being flooded slowly by said inspiration, an inspiration that would not die, that willed me to pursue the year in its entirety. Its source was just as ambiguous as it was overt.
I was unencumbered, neither by my school, nor by my parents, who both openly wished me well in what I sought. The choice was entirely mine. I had listened to many opinions and weighed the elements of my known life that would escape me for the year. I asked, and I was graciously answered. And yet I could not say exactly what it was that evoked this inspiration.
It is June, and here I am. Witnessing the arc of what I have chosen play out and, quite honestly, just finally feeling at ease, wildly content, bold. The irony.
I am happy with the decision that I made and I concur with the words of my cousin: the first half of a year abroad is spent building a new life, the second is spent living it.
I don’t mean to disparage the experience of a semester; there is fathomless merit in that initial leap one takes from home, wherever that may be, to a universe of utter newness, which one is then tasked not only with exploring but with adopting, too. Accepting, analyzing and striving to understand. This initial exploration is undoubtedly incomparable.
But still, I chose a year. And while I not only refuse to deny the influence of outside forces, but thank them and their guidance, I know solemnly that this decision came from within.
I’ve sat in quiet rooms and on sweltering, humid buses and discussed these matters with others, in the process gaining the knowledge that for some, this is a decision that comes from without. I respect that, as we all have our ways about us. However, I do encourage, I do urge, the prospective traveler to seek the quietness to listen to his or her own intuition. In opting to go abroad, already, you are altering your story as a participant of our modern society; while this experience may not be entirely rare, it is certainly not entirely ordinary either. And therefore I suggest embracing this individuality of the trajectory and landscape of your own life — there is no other sense of liberation that parallels it.
À gauche: une fille de ma classe, Nina/ À droite: moi (coucou)