One week from today, I’ll be back in the United States. As I write this, I’m currently somewhere in international airspace between Stockholm and London. Between now and my flight back to New York next Monday, I have four more days to wrap up experiments in my lab in the U.K., a roundtrip to Edinburgh, and four more iconic sites to visit in London before I call it quits on my summer in Europe.
I long ago passed the mark when the days in front of me became far fewer than the days behind me, and I’m actually okay with that. Since I arrived in London at the end of May, I’ve seen nine cities (well — eight cities and a county but who’s keeping track), lost countless hours of sleep to begin my adventures early, and felt entirely at home in a place where I have no familial ties. I’ve met people from all over the world, sweated at Stonehenge, had awkward encounters in Brussels, got sunburnt in Paris, avoided bees all over Sweden, and accepted that I’m the only person who seems to care that there is no air conditioning anywhere.
Over the course of this ten week-long adventure that has spanned four months, I am beginning to wonder if I am the same person I was when I left. Lots of students at Hopkins study abroad for a semester, but most of my friends are engineers — and most of those are ChemBE — which means that whether we like it or not, it’s just more difficult to squeeze in a semester in an exotic location when you need to take Organic Chemistry an Biochemistry at the same time. Still hell-bent on experiencing this quintessential college milestone, I have to say that this was without a doubt the best decision I’ve made since I accepted my offer to attend Hopkins three years ago.
Going abroad is like freshman year. I arrived and had to put myself in positions I haven’t had to risk since I got to Hopkins in August of 2014. The only difference was that this time, I knowingly put myself there. I had unique circumstances because my study abroad happened to fall at the end of the British term, meaning that I arrived a month before the end of the spring term, and I will be leaving only a month into the summer term. For me, that meant that I had to try to make friends twice. I’m undoubtedly extroverted, but that doesn’t mean that making friends is easy. I struggled for my first few weeks in London, but I’ve also never experienced such a short period of time in which so much has happened.
I’ve felt the crippling loneliness of not having a familiar face to depend on, experienced the incredible independence that comes with landing in a foreign country and being on my own, felt like a true city-slicker living in central London, enjoyed the homeyness of my local Sainsbury’s and knowing exactly what tube car will get me ahead of the crowds.
A (very big) part of me is looking forward to going home. I’m overwhelmed by the idea of seeing my mom and holding my smelly cat, Zoey. I’m excited to settle on a floor theme for my new residents in Wolman Hall, but I’m also scared. Thinking about starting my final year at Hopkins makes my heart sink and my stomach churn. I don’t think I’ll miss studying on C Level until 2AM, but I will miss sharing a table with my best friend RJ when everyone realizes it’s Sunday afternoon and there are suddenly no tables left. I’ll miss listening to Cher with Paige in times of desperation and making fun of Paige with Emily. In case the churning in my stomach wasn’t fast and furious enough, I still have to study for the GRE, because no matter how much I told myself I needed to, I never found the proper rhythm or routine this summer, but I also didn’t try hard enough.
My European adventure is still not over, but it is rapidly coming to a close. I still have to buy gifts for people at home, catch up on tracking my finances for my scholarship, and take pictures at 221B Baker Street and Abbey Road, but I also need to finalize the list of graduate schools I’m applying to, seriously hunker down and study for the GRE, brace myself for RA training, and come up with a game plan for my research project at Hopkins so I can hit the ground running when I get back.
As my plane makes its final descent to London’s Luton Airport, I am aware of both the excitements and worries that I am returning to. For now though, I am happy in the clouds. There is nowhere else to be but here.