Life without a Chaperone

In order to move forward with a decision, I usually need to be 100% sure it’s the right call. And so, my decision to apply for a Fulbright led me to no fewer than 100 websites. I read advice from universities, commissions in different countries, and past grantees. My main goal at the time was discovering how to make the most of my application with such limited word count. However, the most poignant advice I read began with the end in mind. It went something like this:

You’ve said goodbye to your family and you’re on the plane to your Fulbright destination. You pop your headphones in and prepare for takeoff. You made it—but it’s time to consider how you are going to get there.

Thinking about this grand goal in reverse forced me to sit back and consider the gravity of what I wanted. And at the time I thought, “Well, yeah, somebody is going to get it, but they’ll be prepared to leave and know what they’re getting themselves into.” I never really thought about what came next, only, “how do I get that?” I dismissed the thought of actually receiving the grant, especially after my shit-poor interview with my sponsor university.

Well, I got what I wanted, but no one ever told me how difficult the in-between would be. Every step I’ve taken, I thought this is obviously the hardest part. The Fulbright application—The interview—WAITING for a response (5 months!)—The visa application and passport application and the millions of other papers—the list is ongoing. But through all of that, I don’t think I prepared to leave. I never thought that could be so hard.

And now that I’m on my front porch for the last time—saying goodbye to the dog who watched me grow up (mom and brother, too, I guess). In my mind, it was framed as a moment of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. On one level, it still is. But on another level, I have people telling me left and right how they are so sad and how Christmas won’t be the same. You see, I think the person who typed up that advice I read last July skipped the part about hugging your dog good bye, or the look in your best friend’s eyes as she realizes you can’t come back for her wedding.

Yes, I know I chose this. Yes, I know I’m “lucky.” I am leaving for a great adventure, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to go. People are meant to grow and change—and good things hardly come from comfort zones.

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