It’s time for me to face straight-on what is going to occur next month.Sometime last summer, I believe, I experienced one of the most potent mental breakdowns of recent memory. Anxiety welled up in my mind and heart as I lay in bed, and only moments later the tears grappled for space on my cheeks and my mom was hushing me, telling me everything was okay, as I hiccupped about how lost and uncertain I felt about my future. After I calmed down a smidge we sat together on the couch and she told me, “You need to study abroad. You need to do it.”
I applied for an exchange at the University of Copenhagen almost immediately. I finalized my application in September and twiddled my thumbs until October 1. Ping. An email from my international adviser popped into my inbox. Hi Kellie, followed by this word: Unfortunately…
Unfortunately, we could not place anyone in Copenhagen this spring.
An odd blanket of calm swathed over me. I accepted that perhaps I wasn’t meant to dive into something as ambitious as a six month trek overseas. I’ll just move back to school, finish off my degree, and ponder why travelling always flitted just out of my fingers’ reach.
Then I read the rest of the email.
You were such a good candidate I was wondering if you’d be interested in one of our programs either in Exeter, England, or Uppsala, Sweden.
I emailed him back. I called his phone. Yes, yes, I am interested, tell me what to do, how much time I have to do it, what can I expect in my email, yes, Oh God, yes, I will.
I chose Uppsala. In two weeks the application was due. In other words, I had two weeks to select classes, get them approved by my academic adviser, research the school enough to get a basic understanding, commit to the program, pay $500, order my official transcript from the school.
During those two weeks, this is what happened:
- At least five panic attacks
- One order of my academic transcript not reaching his mailbox, across campus, on time
- Ordering a second transcript and driving north two hours to campus in order to pick it up on the day the app was due
- Getting course approvals only to realize half were Master’s level classes
- Unannounced change in my academic adviser
- Emailing the wrong people
Multiple times, my text message conversations with my mom and sister went similar to the following:
This isn’t meant to happen
Why do I always fuck up
I just fail at everything I do.
October 15 came and went. I managed to turn everything in on time.
Underneath the anxiety and panic, my brain kept focused. I don’t know how I managed to punch through the boulders of those mental anomalies, but I did, and I surfaced into clean air. I guess my determination outweighed my sense of impending doom. I probably annoyed multiple people in the process, but I felt that’s what needed to happen in order for me to hammer my way into the clear.
My acceptance letter rolled in on November 17. The following day I applied for my residence permit through the Swedish Migration Board, worried sick over the “proof of funds” portion. Two days later, my case manager emailed me. We need more information. I needed to re-upload my proof of funds.
Thursday included a bevvy of phone calls to my bank. The reps were a Godsend, to be honest. They sent me a statement, I uploaded it, and the next day my case was resolved. I was granted a residence permit.
The months of December and early January are merely going to include me sitting and tapping my feet in the waiting room of life. I constantly stew over the emotions aimed at my study abroad. Excitement. Nerves. Fear. Blessedness. Stress. Each flows in stages, and departs silently like fog to give way to another feeling. Overall, I can say I’m thrilled for this opportunity after all the horrible misfortune I experienced throughout the process. This is a time of firsts, though. First time flying by myself. First time out of the country. First time living in a place where I know absolutely no one – aside from the pair also studying in Sweden from my school, who are quite friendly and lovely.
There’s an outtake in The Hobbit, where Bilbo is on the Bard’s barge headed towards Laketown and complains “We have a saying in the Shire: Never venture east.”
“Mr. Baggins, why did you venture east?”
Bilbo doesn’t know.
I do not really know why I am doing this. My foremost reason, at least early in the application process, was that I want to find some writing inspiration and recaptured my muse. I want adventure. I want a change. There exists something much deeper than that, however. A seed of character buried somewhere within my soul that has yet to surface. I cannot name it. It is probably something that might cause great fear, or growth, or serve as a key unlocking one more door of joy.
Why am I venturing east? That remains to be seen.
Alas, my good friend Gandalf pops to mind again. Hopefully in a slightly different context, but the second part will ring true.
Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
Surely, I will not be the Kellie inhabiting this current space when I return home.