Skydiving

So I did some math this morning and realized that I have exactly one month until I’m back home. That’s right, kids — if all goes well, which is to say disregarding the possibility of my expiring somewhere on the Inca Trail or perishing in the midst of the predicted apocalypse, I’ll be landing at JFK sometime around 6 a.m. on December 21st. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind about that reality — for all the talk going on amongst my friends and I lately about our first meals back in America, or all my efforts to ignore everyone’s Facebook updates about undoubtedly delicious Thanksgiving dinners, or my occasional annoyance that none of the emails I receive about events are ever relevant to me, I can’t figure out how to analyze the math in a way where the fact that I’ve been here for almost 11 months makes any sense. Sure, everyone always says “It feels like just yesterday that…” I won’t go so far as to say that it feels like yesterday, but it does feel like a whole bunch of yesterdays. It doesn’t feel like almost a year. It doesn’t feel like I’ve turned 24 here. And it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s time to go.

I always know when I need to move, because I do this thing where I start staring obsessively at every airplane overhead, wondering where they’re going, who’s aboard, why I’m not on that flight right now. It happened to me at home in Boston, it happened in Buenos Aires, it happened in Chicago. Even though I miss some of those places desperately (I still harbor a Charlie Brown-esque unrequited and unconsummated love for the Windy City that’s going to have to be remedied one of these days), the only recent time I can remember glancing at an airplane that I wasn’t about to board was one day where Bogotá was smothered in absolutely spectacular clouds and I couldn’t help watching the lights slice through the darkness. I’m just not ready to leave yet.

Of course, I’m ready to go home for the holidays. I miss my family, my friends, American football, Trader Joe’s, Harvard Square in December, good breakfast cereal, snow… the list goes on. I miss people. I miss things. But the unfortunate truth of where I am in my life is that I’m always going to miss people, places and things. My friends are scattered across the country, some of them across the world. I will never live within two miles of all of my closest friends at any point again in my life. Everything I love can never be in one place. And traveling doesn’t make it better — it exacerbates it. I keep moving, I keep falling in love, and then I keep moving on. I would rather be in love with everything than nothing, but it’s not my favorite kind of balancing act.

All of this is to say that, despite my itchy feet, I’m not done with Bogotá yet. Whenever I think, seriously think, about getting on a plane and never coming back, I start to freak out. I want to grab everything here that I care about and cling to it. You’re going to have to drag me away, I hiss to the imaginary authorities enforcing this mandatory evacuation.

But you know what? Nobody is enforcing it. I will be thrilled to go home in December, but I’m going to be just as happy to come back in January. Because yes, I’m coming back. It’s not exactly clear right now what I’m going to be doing (or how I’m going to make sure I feed myself), but that’s something I’ll figure out in the time between now and then. I’ve always landed on my feet so far in my life, and if a man can take the risk of jumping from an aircraft perched on the edge of space, the least my scaredy-cat self can do is try to make this work and see what happens. Because lord knows I won’t be jumping from any airplanes anytime soon.

Unless that Mayan apocalypse does happen, after all. Then I may not have a choice.

How can I think about leaving this place when I just want to wrap my arms around it?

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How Not to Ruin a Goodbye for Everyone You Know

bring it, times square

For the record, there are not mountains like this in New York.

My friend is leaving Colombia tonight, heading back to the States to start grad school in a month. It’s a great opportunity for her, of course, very exciting etc., but obviously on a selfish level I’m sad to lose someone with whom I’ve already spent lots of time eating pizza, drinking wine and watching the occasional Ryan Gosling movie. Also, it means I have to say goodbye to someone I really like, about seven months earlier than I’d anticipated. This unequivocally sucks.

It’s these kinds of moments where most people will inevitably trot out that old reliable: “I’m so bad at goodbyes.” This is, by far, the most socially acceptable way to react to having to deal with someone’s departure, even in the kinds of mobile, transient communities you find among international workers and travelers.

But here’s the thing, friends: nobody is good at goodbyes. They’re not something that the average human enjoys, unless you’re saying goodbye to a particularly difficult boss or horrible ex-boyfriend. In general, we’re not big on abandonment or drastic change, and goodbyes tend to involve both of those things.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that I’m good at dealing with goodbyes (please see first sentence of above paragraph, thank you). But truthfully, I would feel dishonest if I claimed to be particularly bad at them. It is possible, you know, to deal with departures without reacting to them as The Worst Thing In The History Of The World Ever. This, however, does require a few factors in your favor, some of which are definitely more controllable than others. This, I think, is more or less what works for me:

1. The first is not being a crier. If you’re prone to crying (and I know a few lovely people who fall right into this category), I got nothing for you. Sorry. Personally, I violently loathe the idea of crying in front of any entity other than my teddy bear, and do everything in my power to keep it that way. So, crying. Don’t do it. Doesn’t help.

2. The second, I’d argue, is a strong belief in personal agency and responsibility. If I want to stay in touch with someone, I will. Sure, when you leave the country, your relationships do change — I can’t text my friends at any hour about the cute teacher at work, and I have to schedule Skype calls to keep updated on the lives of people at home. The frequency changes — where I used to be in contact with some friends every week, now it’s more like once or twice a month. This is a necessary side effect of geography and new systems of telecommunication, but it’s not like these people suddenly stop existing in my life, or become less important. They’re still entirely there. If you want to stay in touch with someone, you will, one way or another. It’s as simple as that. So saying goodbye doesn’t mean that person is gone forever — unless you want it that way.

3. The third, and maybe most important, one has to do with time management, or some emotional version of picking the site for your battles. I usually do this thing where I anticipate leaving a place or people about three months ahead of time, and preemptively go through my depressed grieving process at that point. My friends think this is slightly masochistic and entirely comical, but dammit, it works for me. Granted, it does lead to a lot of mournful looks directed at things like Lake Michigan and the entirety of Davis Square, and drunken conversations (or, occasionally, somewhat more than conversations) with my friends about how much I’m going to miss them — but it also gives me a manageable amount of time to work through whatever negative emotions I’m feeling ahead of time in order to be calm when the actual moment arrives. And calmness goes a long way towards making these kinds of transitions easier.

This was most relevant at two points recently: when I graduated from college, and when I moved here in January. Both situations involved leaving people and places that I love dearly, and I spent a good amount of time during the months beforehand moping about how much I was going to miss Ian’s Pizza (oh, mac & cheese pizza, ambrosia of the Wrigleyville gods!) or sitting in my living room with my roommates at midnight talking about femme invisibility. I was probably incredibly unpleasant to be around for some of those days — but when the time came to actually leave, there was no crying. I’d already moved through that, and everything was wiped clean to make space for my excitement about whatever was to come next.

Of course, this time I’m not the one leaving, which makes it a bit harder, although the fact that I’m living in Bogotá for at least seven more months is a pretty good consolation prize. And I didn’t get that much advance warning this time either, which has pretty much negated that vital third strategy. Still, these kinds of changes are inevitable, and it’s certainly made me realize how much I’ve already established a life and routine here, in just two short months. I have friends I rely on, a favorite bakery and a standing Ultimate Frisbee date with some of my students on Monday afternoons, and I’m already comfortable enough with all of these aspects of my life that change feels peculiar, instead of still just part of the adjustment process.

So Rachel, I’m going to miss you, but good luck in New York, and thank you for helping me realize how much Bogotá, for me, has already begun to feel like home.

The final countdown

We invented tea parties. The rest of y'all are just copycats.

I KNOW, BOSTON. I don't understand why anyone would want to leave you, either.

Okay, so this is it. At 9 a.m. tomorrow, I’m on a flight to JFK, then it’s off to Bogotá that afternoon. My brain is not so much wrapped around this whole ditching-the-country-for-a-year business, although saying goodbye to what feels like everyone I know over the last week or so has impressed upon me that something, at least, is happening.

A brief logistical note, for all of my fans: We’re spending most of January in orientation/training, in a town called Cota, which is here, just outside Bogotá. We do not have consistent (or possibly any? The details of this are slightly unclear) internet access while we’re there. Even if we did, we’re apparently getting our brains stuffed full of all kinds of information about how to teach English and what the hell the pluperfect tense is and occasionally, how not to behave in a way that will reflect poorly on the US, because we’re representatives of the country etc. Point being, I will probably not be updating this blog much, if at all, during the month of January. Do not assume this means I’ve already been kidnapped. It doesn’t. I’m just busy, learning how to try to do my job. If it’s possible to update it, I’ll do my best, but don’t expect much action around there here parts between now and the end of the month.

On that note, however, I am pleased to offer a bit of last-minute advice to anyone else considering international travel sometime in the near future. I present to you…

An Expert’s Guide To: The Mature Way to Flee the Country

Waiting for your friend in Panera, unsure whether or not she’s already arrived, you wander slowly downstairs, just in case she’s already at a table. Upon clearing the blocked view of the ceiling, you spy, sitting at a table with some random blonde girl, your Terrible Ex-Sort-of-Boyfriend from freshman year of college. How to deal with this situation like an adult:

1. Proceed to almost fall down the stairs in shock, because what in the name of Rob Gronkowski is he doing here? You work on this block! This is YOUR turf. There is an invisible “Step Off It” sign hanging all around the greater Camberville area, and it is to be respected.

2. Whirl gracefully around, creating a blinding flash of swirling color in your bright green peacoat. CIA experts and decades of research can confirm that this is the most effective way to stay incognito.

3. Scamper back up the stairs as quickly as physically possible without sounding like a herd of stampeding, Lion King-esque wildebeest.

4. Feel incredibly proud of yourself for how well you confront surprising and mildly horrifying situations. Feel totally prepared for anything South America is going to throw at you.

I’m so ready for this. Bring it, Colombia 2012!

School updates and vague threats

YOU GUYS. January 4th is exactly one week from today. I leave in seven days. Woah.

Way back in the spring, when I was applying for this program, 2012 seemed miles away (fortunately, since I was in no mood to be seriously considering the advent of the looming apocalypse. But I digress). But now it’s here, perched just four days away from me, waiting. Needless to say, I have packed exactly nothing, although I do have a cardboard box sitting on the floor in my room, designated for “things I need to remember to bring.” So that’s something, I suppose.

In other news, I got my school assignment a few days ago — it’s a small, semi-private school waaaayyyyy up in one of the northernmost neighborhoods of Bogotá. It also starts at 7 a.m., so that’s going to be a party. I hope for the sake of my relationship with my students that I don’t have any classes first thing in the morning, or we are not going to be friends. It seems like a pretty cool school, though — there’s a strong focus on the arts and significant emphasis on bilingual education, which means I might even feel useful! Fancy that! The school is fairly small, as well, with less than 900 students across grades K-12, so I’m excited about the small class sizes. Hopefully I’ll get to know most of my students pretty well, rather than resorting to calling them “Hey you, in the blue shirt.” Although if I don’t know their names, I can never get them in trouble, so there might be some benefit to anonymity, after all.

In any case, for all of you here in Boston: You have exactly six days to confess your love to me, buy me a drink or do anything else you’ve been putting off all year. Because when I stay in South America forever, you’ll be sorry you didn’t do it before I left. Consider this your final warning.