And just like that, my semester abroad has come to an end. We all have those moments when we are reminded of how old we are, how far we come, and we are consequentially stupefied by how fast time passes. Graduation comes to mind. Birthdays too, as well as the beginning of every school year in the fall. I know we all understand what it feels like to welcome (or reject) the end of an era, so to speak, so I won’t elaborate here, but I can’t emphasize to you enough right now of how much I cannot believe that five months have passed, and that I’m arrived safely back home in the USA.
Living abroad has the potential to change you completely. Hell, I have a hard time believing that living abroad for an extended period of time WON’T change you. And I’m no exception, but I don’t want this last entry of this blog to be a realization of how Petersburg has become my second home and that I’m an ex-pat or blah blah blah. It’s not. I had the best time, but I was only gone for four and a half months, and I loved my time there immensely, but I won’t pretend to say that I went native or fell in love so deeply with a city that I’m already planning my trip back. I had a wonderful time, but I was very much a tourist my entire time there. Moreover, I know that when I return, whenever that is, it won’t be the same.
Saying goodbye wasn’t as bad as I had made it all out to be in my last post. I think it’s because it all happened so fast, and it still hasn’t registered that I don’t live on the 8th line of Vasilievsky Ostrov anymore. My goodbye with Nina Vasilievna was brief. I bought her flowers and wrote her a card, and we shared a big hug on the landing while my suitcases waited for me below. Elena and Nastia (the program intern) took us to the airport, and in a chaotic rush to get through the next line of security, I gave them a hug and a big thank you. Mike Freese took Will Watkins to the airport for his separate flight in the early morning of the 8th, and so wasn't there to see us off. Therefore, no goodbye from Mike. Jenna says it’s because Mike didn’t want us all to see him weep when he would have to say goodbye to Jenna... Clearly!
The flight to Finland went smoothly and lasted about an hour. We didn’t have a long layover at all. We went straight to our gate and boarded our flight to JFK within half an hour. Our flight left around 2 pm St. Petersburg time, so it was weird timing in terms of trying to sleep on the plane. I dozed on and off over Iceland, but other than that, I stayed awake for most of the flight. I watched Monuments Men (with George Clooney and Matt Damon - it just came out this winter/spring) and was disappointed. The tone didn’t seem to match up with a story about World War II at all, and I found it a little too cheesy in terms of its jokes and one-liners. But that’s just my personal opinion. It’s based on a really cool true story, nonetheless.
When we landed in New York we were all bubbling with excitement. I myself almost keeled over with joy when, at passport control, the older man behind the counter smiled, asked me how I was, and said “welcome home!” I skipped down the walkway belt onto baggage claim with everyone else. Sean and I took the same flight to Boston, so once we got our bags we said goodbye to everyone. It was a series of quick hugs and “it was so nice to meet you - if you’re ever in [insert region] give me a call - we’ll stay in touch.” It all happened so fast that I didn’t really dwell on the fact that I was saying goodbye to all these people.
Sean and I waited at our gate for a few hours, and then for an extra hour as our flight was delayed. At this point, it was around 3 am - 4 am our time in Petersburg, and I just felt so exhausted. I tried to sleep on the flight to Boston, but what felt like five minutes take off the captain said over the over-com that we had 25 minutes left until we landed. The short flight made up for the long layover. Sean and I collected our bags, said goodbye, and then I met Barry, my favorite Air Force cadet/Coast Guard Academy one-semester-er and someone I’ve waited what feels like FOREVER to see, who greeted me with hugs, kisses and a bouquet of 15 roses.
I’ve spent the last few days in a jet-lagged haze of on and off sleep, Grey’s Anatomy on the lifetime channel, and really long showers. My parents are picking me up in Boston later tonight, and I am so excited to see them. This is the longest time I’ve been away from home, and no matter how much time I will spend away from my parents and from Maine in the future, I will always be overjoyed to see my family (if only until we all want to kill each other). I’ll spend a few days at home before I come back to Boston to head to Harvard on Friday for a little meet and greet orientation shin dig. I start on Monday! (Wish me luck).
For now, I’ll be fighting this oncoming cold, trying to catch up on sleep, and slowly adjusting back to reality. I can already tell it’s going to be weird and terribly sad. Yesterday I woke up slightly disoriented - it took me a second to realize that I couldn’t walk across Bolshoi Prospect and onto the bridge over the Neva. I’m a little worried about this whole reverse culture shock deal, to be honest. I think I’m usually pretty good at adjusting to different environments, but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I’m going to be really sad for a while about not being in Petersburg and not being surrounded by all my friends there. Their absence is definitely what I’m feeling the most right now; I’m going to miss them all so much. They were really more than just your average friend in Russia; they were a friend plus a relative/lifeline of sorts. The experiences you go though in a foreign country with other people in your same boat are different than you’ll ever have anywhere else, I think.
Nevertheless, I’m excited to see how much I’ve changed. I know I have, but I don’t know in which ways, you know? At least not yet. Maybe I’ll respond with some Russian the next time I go buy groceries at Hannafords, maybe I’ll give a stranger a glare if they smile at me randomly (what’s wrong with you? why are you smiling?). Maybe I’ll crave raw garlic cloves for dinner, maybe I’ll insist on toasting to мир и здоровье every time I have a drink in my hand as Nina Vasilievna does. I’m sure I’ll come back with new habits, and hopefully it's all exciting.
I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying that I’d never trade these past four and a half months for anything in the world, and that, if you or anybody you know is on the fence about living/studying abroad, you should 110% go for it/recommend it to them. I know that people (I’m thinking about people at Conn in particular) who choose not to study abroad usually have good reasons, but I will say that I think that studying abroad helps those who are not just studying languages, area studies, international relations or what have you. I thoroughly believe that studying abroad, ESPECIALLY in a country where you don’t have easy access to English or in which the native language is one you’re studying, simply helps you become a better person (not that I've come back a better person - more independent, I should say?).
Alright, I’ve written enough sentimental, cheesy crap already. Thanks to everyone who has followed my blog - I meant to do this for myself, but the fact that I still get views on this blog makes my insides tingle with joy. I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog, and who knows, perhaps I’ll start another one the next time I find myself in Russia or another part of the world. I’m certainly going to miss recording all my adventures.
But anyways, I’m back in the states. So come find me! Let’s hang out!