A lot of hip-hop albums end with a really long song that is part conventional song, and part the rapper just rambling and reflecting while the beat goes. This post is named after a couple of those songs: Kanye West’s “Last Call” and Jay Z’s “My First Song.” You should listen to these songs, and the albums they’re on. They’re great! But more importantly, you should read this post, because it’s right here, and it’s the last one I’m going to write ever.
One of the strangest things about studying abroad is that it is consistently evaluated as the “study abroad experience.” The same holds true with the “college experience,” and other pivotal life periods, but it seems especially intense while abroad, given the condensed time frame, all of the money and thought invested into going abroad, the importance placed on learning about oneself in a foreign place, etc. These factors all create this sort of meta-commentary that any abroad student has, that is always evaluating one’s abroad experience and how it is meeting expectations, personal or otherwise.
I decided pretty early on that I wanted to balance listening to this voice. I figured that ignoring it would be dumb, because then I might not do any of the things that I had set out wanting to do in the first place. But I also didn’t want to listen to this voice all the time, because that would be stressful and lame, since it would reduce my time in Scotland to crossing off a list of stuff without time to be spontaneous and whatnot.
Looking back right now, I am really happy with my study abroad experience. I traveled a lot around Europe but also within Scotland, I met some great new friends, I tried new things. I put myself in uncomfortable situations, I learned a lot. I didn’t worry too much.
Thanks to my family for giving me the opportunity to study abroad. I’m very lucky. Thanks to the friends that I’ve met here who have helped me never feel alone. Thanks to my friends back home who have made me feel missed and appreciated. Thanks to Scottish people for being very nice. Thanks to my roommate for being a great friend and letting me play weird music very loud. Thanks to all the people who let me stay with them while I traveled. Thanks to all the other people I should have thanked but didn’t thank.
I had so much fun this semester, and I’m inspired for the future. After walking through the museums and galleries in Paris, I want to explore what I’m capable of making creatively; after admiring the architecture in Copenhagen, I want to see how I can apply that creativity to practically help the community. After watching Celtic and Inter Milan play, I want to push myself to be the best soccer player I can be in my final year of college soccer. After being away from my friends and family for a little while, I want to come back and show them how much I truly value them.
And I want to keep traveling too, but more than anything, I just want to continue living with the right mindset. During my trip by myself to Inverness, I started reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. At one point in the book, the protagonist/narrator is hiking with his son, who is slowly becoming tired and frustrated as they trudge up the mountain. The narrator thinks his son is becoming frustrated because basically, he is thinking too much about the mountain peak and not the hiking itself. He writes:
“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock feels loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.”
In knowing that my time abroad was such a finite and unique opportunity, I ended up naturally living out what Pirsig discusses here in this passage. I enjoyed every moment in my many journeys, I listened to myself and moved at my own pace, I noticed and appreciated things I maybe wouldn’t have if I was at home in Mill Creek, Washington. But I really hope that I can take this way of thinking and living back with me. Just because I’m not abroad doesn’t mean I can’t find the newness and joy in other, quieter moments, on a hot summer afternoon in Walla Walla or back home in my cul-de-sac in Mill Creek.
I thought maybe after studying abroad I would have a clearer idea of what I wanted to do with my future, and now that I’m finishing up my study abroad time, I can confidently say that did not happen, like, at all. Instead, I am more aware than ever of the countless possibilities that lay ahead of me, and I am more certain than ever that I will enjoy the process of navigating those possibilities. I’m a really lucky guy.