Well, this is it. All the goodbyes have been said. I’m sitting in the President’s Club in the DC airport (thanks dad!!) sipping wine and eating trailmix and carrots. Haven’t seen those in awhile…other long lost friends rediscovered on the plane included: salad, twix, cheese, and juice.
Though I’ve calmed down a bit during my last two flights, here’s what I wrote during my first one-->
[On the way to the airport:]
Nathaniel: I’ve never felt this way about leaving a place before.
Me: me neither.
What do I mean exactly? I’m not sure…I’m still trying to figure it out. I know, though, that it has something to do with not being ready to leave.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how attached I had grown; it wasn’t until very recently that I realized I still have so much to learn here.
I started processing how I feel about leaving about a week ago, but I know there’s still a lot of reflecting to come…
First of all, I’ve learned a TON here. It is the most incredible feeling to enter a country you know Nothing about, and be able to fly away 3 ½ months later talking about its culture, its people, its food, its geography, its politics, its accents, its strengths/weaknesses, its history… To enter and think ‘yewww…these streets are over stimulated and grimy!’, but leave feeling comfortable strolling them. To enter thinking ‘yeah! Traveling is fun, but I’ll never live permanently abroad’ and to leave thinking ‘well….maybe…’
I learned big things (what is international development? What is generosity?), I learned little things (how do you eat a mango without a knife? How do you barter?), and I learned inbetween things too (how do you adapt to diverse eating and hygiene habits?).
And something that took me by surprise, is that I got much more comfortable speaking French—don’t be fooled, this is thanks to the welcome offered by Cameroonians and not my skill.
I didn’t really know what to expect of my semester or of Cameroon. Though I knew it would be an excellent experience, I also knew it might be really challenging. I read a former SIT Cameroon student’s blog a week or so before leaving, and she concluded by summing up the semester as “trying”. With my departure looming, this wasn’t very comforting. One of her pictures showed her “bathroom”—a bucket—and I thought “whoa! That’s crazy! but that won’t be me…”
I can easily see how someone could walk away from the semester and call it “trying”’; in fact, several students in my group are—but that doesn’t mean they use the term in a negative fashion. It is not, however, the word I’m going to use. I’m grateful for this, and I think it hinges a lot on my previous semester in Nantes and I’ll that I learned there.
SO. What IS my word of choice?
Well, to be honest, it’s not really mine. I’m going to steal from Araba and describe my time here as ENRICHING. I’m going to add by stealing from Ellen and say “it has raised more questions than it has answered”. And finally I’m going to say something original by addressing the “was it life changing?” question. I think every newly encountered idea, attitude, belief, custom, question, or experience changes one’s life a bit. I just so happens that I encountered these new things at a more rapid pace than usual, and consequently my life was changing more quickly than usual.
As I said, I’m suddenly unsure about leaving. To be perfectly honest, my concern is two-fold. Not only am I uncertain about being away from Cameroon, but I’m also uncertain about coming home. Odd! I’ve never felt that before…
Ultimately I know I’ll adapt right back into the swing of things, but I’m mentally preparing myself for a bit of a transition. I want to give you a glimpse of what’s running through my mind and my friends’ so that you have the fullest picture possible of my study abroad semester, and so that you’ll be patient with me as I shift back to live here in the USofA.
-First, even if people back home know a lot about my trip (yeah! Like you, my faithful readers!), the reality is that they were not here with me. They cannot really relate to my experiences. I appreciate their sympathy, but that doesn’t mean they can empathize. There’s nothing I can do about it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be frustrating.
-I want to get back into things without compromising what I’ve learned. Will I be able to hold tight onto all that I’ve learned? Or will it slip away from me when I’m miles and miles away from Cameroon?
-I’m going to miss not only my Cameroonian friends, but my SIT friends too!!
-What if my everyday life seems a bit duller?
-Will I be able to look at US prices without having a heart attack ??!?
-Will I be(more) impatient with: skanky clothes? The media? Pettiness? Ignorance? People who don’t find significant that which I believe is important?
These are real culture shocks. Sure, walking into Super Wal-mart will be a bit surprising the first time, but honestly, I’ve only been gone 3 months—I remember what it looks like. It’s these non-tangible things that might be harder to adjust to.
I’m sitting (legs crossed, just because they can be) in the plane, and we just took off from Yaoundé. It hasn’t quite hit yet—still feels unreal. The trip here felt unreal too, but that was “wow! Who knows what’s to come!” UNREAL, and this is “I feel sort of empty” UNREAL.
So, that’s the truth. I hope I don’t sound overly dramatic, but even putting my thoughts on paper makes me feel a bit better. Sure I’m a little down, but that says a lot about the power of my experience in Cameroon, and I do have a lot to look forward to in T-Town. Besides…don’t worry Cameroon, I’ll be back!
A la prochaine, alors…