"Please don't forget me, I'm going away." Those are just a small part of the lyrics to a song that's been playing in my head for the past few days as we approach the end of an indescribable semester at Harlaxton. And while I'm not "taking a taxi to Kentucky," I will be getting on a plane to Chicago and then driving to Ohio, which is close enough for me.
It's hard to believe, now that the day has come, that it was four months ago I was unpacking that same bright purple suitcase that I'm cramming entirely too much stuff back into now. Hard to believe how much you can accumulate in four months, both in physical objects and in experiences.
As I shoved things into that big purple suitcase, I found myself reliving four months I know I'll never forget. I pulled out books I'd bought in York, where I walked along a wall far older than anything I'd ever seen before. I rediscovered pamphlets I'd tucked away from our hostel in Dublin, where we sat and had a drink with five real Dubliners. I unearthed the ink and pen I bought at the Jane Austen center in Bath, the stuffed bear I bought in Lincoln (named Cuthbald, after a name we found on the wall), gummy bears from Germany, a keychain from London, and on and on.
While these objects are, on one hand, that much more that I have to somehow fit into my luggage while still not going over the 50 pound limit (pounds being weight again, not money--weird), they are also memories of all the places I have been. It's hard to believe that when I dragged myself up the stairs to the 500s for the first time in January, I hadn't been further from home in quaint little Ohio than a single trip to Florida. Hard to imagine now how I had never been in an airport, let alone flown in countless Ryanair flights to all sorts of new countries. Hard to picture a time when I'd never been on a subway, or a train, or stayed in a hostel. And yet, here I am, sitting in my bed in room 514 for one of the last times I ever will, and realizing how new all of the experiences that have now become almost commonplace were to the person I was four months ago.
I don't think it's truly possible to spend four months in another country, to spend four months jetting off from that foreign country to a ton of other equally (if not more) foreign countries, without changing. Some of the changes are small--more familiarity with public transport, a little less of an iron grip on my money, and a slightly more easy going attitude. But others are huge--the way I see the world, the way I see myself in relation to it, and the way I plan to live my life now, going forward.
Before I hopped on a plane and came to study in England, I had never been outside of the United States. I had barely even left the midwest. I thought I was an open-minded individual, but I had truly no idea what the world was like outside of suburban Ohio. I didn't realize signs in Ireland would be printed in English and Gaelic, didn't think about the fact that they speak Welsh in Wales, didn't even know the difference between England and the United Kingdom. I confess I didn't even know that Ireland wasn't still a part of the United Kingdom, or that Northern Ireland was a separate thing. Now here I am, preparing to take that final British Studies exam (sort of) and those things are all common knowledge, easy throw away facts to take for granted.
But it goes beyond that, I think. My time here hasn't just taught me facts, although I've learned plenty of those. It's taught me to value adventure, to take risks every now and again, and above all, that I can do the things I never thought I'd be able to do. I can get on a plane, a train, a subway. I can figure out how to give the right change in pounds and euros, even if those coins completely threw me off the first time I saw them. I can deal with the complications that inevitably arise during travel. I can order a drink in a pub (legally, even... although it'll be a year for that back in the States). I can speak adequate amounts of Spanish. Frankly, looking back over this semester, it kind of feels like I can do anything I want.
It has been an amazing semester and the adventure of a lifetime and in many ways I'm not ready for my farewells. But time, like the trains and planes I've been riding on these past few months, doesn't wait for you to be good and ready--it comes and it goes as it pleases, right on schedule.
So as we all bid our fond farewells to this glorious manor house, which we now all know was built by Gregory Gregory, it's worth taking a moment to look inwards, as well, and take a bit of inventory on something more valuable than anything we've got stuffed inside our (hopefully not overweight) suitcases. And while it's true that most of us won't be seeing Harlaxton manor again, I'm sure each and every one of us can agree it will always be our home away from home.