Pre-departure musings

Between studying for final exams, packing my current life away, and getting around to doing things I never did in Brussels, this is proving to be a busy week.

My checklist of “things to do that I never did in Brussels” is nearly complete, though. I’ve devoured Brussels’ art house cinema scene. I’ve finally sat back at the Cinematek and listened to a live pianist while a video montage of Berlin in the 1920’s crackled before me. I’ve perused the Comic Strip Center and am taking home some Tin Tin, en français, bien sûr. I went to the Belgian Royal Greenhouses. I’ve done a lot. A lot. And I’m comforted knowing I won’t be leaving with Brussels with too many regrets.

As part of my studying-procrastination, I went through some of my old blogposts, starting with my pre-departure musings. Reading my fears and expectations for this study abroad experience was strange, as I’m feeling virtually the exact same way now that I’m prepping to return home.

In this post, a month and a half before I left for Brussels, I was depressed. I thought too much would change in California while I was gone, that all my friends would move on to new things, and that I’d return lonely and lost. I feared having to start anew in Brussels and then come back to California and start anew again.

I tearfully hugged several friends goodbye last summer, hoping that wasn’t the final hug between us. I have since let go of those hopes — semi-permanent goodbyes abounded then, and they are abounding now more than ever. Likewise, I did miss a lot this year in California — a death, a fire, a pepper-spraying incident, an engagement — and there’s no way I can assimilate into such dramatic social situations fully.

In this post, two days before I left for Brussels, I expressed disbelief. I was all prepared to jet off, but I felt nothing. This is also how I’m feeling right now. My anguish and dread is being felt on a theoretical level.

In terms of real life emotions, I don’t have any yet. Brussels has turned into a second home and I am having trouble convincing myself that I’m leaving it.

It’s the same situation — just as I spent my last week in California soaking up all of my favorite things for “the last time,” I am currently plotting my farewell meals, nights of dancing and other things for “the last time.” In the summer, it included cuddling with old friends in a mass of blankets on a couch in Alameda, drinking tea and watching TV. This time around, it’s including cuddling with new friends in a mass of blankets on a couch in Ixelles, eating cereal and watching movies.

And again, I don’t feel like I’m actually going anywhere. Yes, I’ve de-registered from my Belgian commune, I’ve given up my identity card, I’ve got my flight confirmation printed out, and I’ve got my last dinners, my last goodbyes, with my families and friends all lined up. But still. I can’t believe that I’ll be driving a car again. I can’t believe that I’ll be reading signs in English. I can’t believe I’ll be able to eavesdrop on people all the time. I can’t believe that come fall, I’ll be in a school with more than 400 people, that I won’t be engaged in adventures every weekend. I can’t believe the levels of mundane I am surely going to feel every day my first weeks back.

In the past week, I’ve had two new friends from CouchSurfing come visit me in Brussels to say goodbye. One: a 33-year-old I met in Luxembourg, who has lived all over the world, and works in something boring like finance. But he lives with vigor, spontaneity. He has dreams that are both lofty and practical. He wants to live and feel fulfilled and he wants to take his time doing it. Another: a 23-year-old cook and future tour-guide from Ghent. He found himself traveling, found himself on CouchSurfing. He just got back from Israel, Iceland is up this summer, working in Australia is on the agenda, as is another long trek in Asia. He’s not staying still. His life goals can wait. He’s living with his mom still, sure, but why would that ever matter when he’s living his life so voraciously?

Both of these fine gentlemen told me the same thing — break away from the American rat race and live out all those globetrotting journeys that I babble on about as if they’re mythical. Aim high and aim far away. And there’s always that little detail that I keep forgetting when I draft my life plans, when I consider succumbing to societal pressures to settle: I’m only 20.

Both men left me with hugs and the customary kiss on the left cheek, which I’ll dearly miss, and both men said this wasn’t goodbye. “I’ll see you soon, somewhere.”

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