I don’t want to leave. Does anyone? How do you even prepare?
Really, I always knew it would come to this. I remember lying in my bed sometime in January, amazed that so much time had already passed. In some sense I suppose I could say with a wistful sigh or panicked shout, “It went by so fast!” But that’s not right. It went by exactly as fast as it seemed to go, unforgiving, merciless and straight on towards its inevitable conclusion: May 27th, 2014.

There’s no denying that while I am sad to go, I am ready. We, the Duluth students, have spent nine months preparing for this. At first, we consoled each other and bonded over things that we missed, celebrated the discovery of some favorite American product in a local shop. We pleaded our Stateside counterparts to send us culinary contraband, and in return we sent missives of postcards and English chocolate. We stayed up with each other for hours, talking about the lives we had and planning our first steps off the plane and back into what we left behind.

Missing things is really a way of life. After a while, my Missings became more like an itchy scar than an open wound. Before I had a chance to realize it, I was sinking deeper and deeper into a new pool of Missings. Just as I began to enjoy my new cell, I have to leave it. And so, the cycle begins anew.

My last week has been spent doing “lasts” and saying goodbye. Last time going to Asda. Last time buying good chocolate. Last burger, last pizza, last pub, last full English breakfast. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. How do you say goodbye to so many people and things with such finality? I’ve determined that there is no good way. Goodbye is really only as final as I make it, though, because in some sense nothing will ever leave me.

Fortunately for me, fate is a terrible weaver. In the great tapestry of life, my thread has been crossed many times with many others, and they have all left their mark somewhere – from the trinkets in my bags to the memories in my head. It’s weird how even the most insignificant actions can have the most profound effects on others. In this sense, we can make our actions a message to the future.

For this reason, in true V for Vendetta style (and because I’m a sentimental moron) I hid a note in my room for the next occupant to find.

Dear occupant,
My name is Mitchell, and for the 2013-2014 year I was an American exchange student here. I had some of the best times of my life this year, and this room saw my life change. I hope whoever you are wherever you’re from, you take opportunities where you can and take the time care about the people in your life.

I’ve got nothing on my mind,
Nothing to remember,
Nothing to forget.
And I’ve got nothing to regret.
But I’m all tied up on the inside,
No one knows quite what I’ve got,
And I know that on the outside
What I used to be
I’m not

Crossroads, Don McLean

Letter from America

By the time you read this, you’ll be leaving England. At the time of writing, you’ve been here almost two weeks.
It’s been a good two weeks. Hopefully the experiences you’ve had complete overshadow everything that’s happened so far though.
So I’ll write what I hope happens:

  • Make friends in every class
  • Have a good exchange weekend
  • Spend Christmas with new people
  • Spend New Year’s somewhere awesome

As you know, I’m not much for setting goals. But remember the reasons you came on this trip in the first place:

  • Always wanted to study abroad
  • Make new friends
  • Leave home
  • Forcefully eject self from ‘shell’

I think so far that I am satisfied with the trip – but I hope you are able to look back at this year and say without doubt that it was best year of your life. [editor’s note: so far…]

-Mitchell Rysavy, September 2013″

Just Passing Through

Of all the books I read in elementary school, there are two that I distinctly remember reading: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar. I cried for hours after finishing them – I sat up after my bedtime with my poor mom, who listened to me blubber about imaginary characters, and she told me that I had a big heart. I couldn’t understand how someone could irreversibly change someone’s life and just leave – the injustice of it all shattered my fragile psyche. And yet some part of me almost wanted to have my heart broken, instead of reading about imaginary characters to feel it in my stead.

Fast-forward to 2005. My family hosted the young girl who would later become my little sister in a program called Journey of Hope, which connected young eastern European orphans to midwestern families for a summer. The first time I can remember being in an airport was picking her up at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, and the second time was when we had to drop her back off. We led her through the throng of people towards security, and watched her trying to stay in the back of the line so she could say goodbye one last time. It was the saddest I could ever remember being, and we remained silent as we made the long drive home. In just five weeks, we had both welcomed a young spirit into our house and watched it leave us, irreversibly changed. The next year was filled with translators and meetings and long-distance phone calls, but eventually we achieved our happy ending and my sister came home.

All of this was in my mind as I walked away from airport security for the umteenth time this year, shedding a single manly tear. This time I wasn’t actually traveling anywhere; I was dropping my dad off on a flight back to Minnesota after a 9-day abridged tour of England and Paris. All in all, we did pretty well: Oxford, London, Malvern Hills, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Mona Lisa, Van Gogh… I had fun. It was sad, for a moment at least. Me and my big heart. Though all in all it was a much happier parting than the last time I had dropped someone off in an airport, as I knew that in less than two months I’d be seeing him again. But it occurred to me that my parents had been through something similar for three of their four children now… sometimes short term, sometimes long term. It’s funny how things work out like that, because I’d never have thought to call us such an international family, but since 2005 we kind of have been. I imagine it’s kind of mixed blessing for them, seeing all the places their children are going but also spending a lot of time saying goodbye in airports.

I remember when my mom first told me about the Journey of Hope program, and I remember five weeks later when she told me we would be adopting my sister. The future seemed like such a daunting concept even then, and through many tears and muddled emotions I told her that nothing’s going to be normal anymore, is it? To which she replied, no, I guess we have to find a new normal. I guess we did.

Bringing It All Back Home

My god, what happened to February? Did January even happen? And now it’s April. I turn around and all of a sudden it’s spring break and we’re registering for next semester and I go back home in two months. Home… remember home? I thought I remembered home, but now I’m not so sure. Home sure feels like the place that I sleep, where I return to after a trip and where I write these posts. Home is where the heart is, and for sure I will be a leaving a piece of my heart in England.

A long, long time ago, on a lake far, far away… someone told me that my study abroad group would become a kind of family. I didn’t believe them. Traditionally I haven’t meshed well in big groups and I knew I was taking a gamble – but I lucked out. Seriously this has been the best seven months of my life and it’s in no small part due to the people I’m with. There’s no way I could have predicted pretty much anything that has happened so far, and I’ve always had someone to cheer with or complain to. It’s pretty great.

At some point in the last month the impermanence of our situation started creeping into our thoughts and conversation. We all know that this nine month experience will end eventually, but it’s making me really sad to think about it. This is the way I see it: in a year or two, most of us will be graduating anyway, and then we will all scatter into the great diaspora of life. Why rush it? After we get back, most of us are going back to Duluth, so why shouldn’t the friendships we made here survive the trip over the Atlantic? So I keep telling myself, though I know that real life isn’t quite so simple.

Above all, I will take this opportunity to enjoy what time and trips I have left. This past weekend we went to York. I suppose it’s fitting that I visit the original York before New York, where I someday hope to live (at least for a little while.) It’s a testament to how comfortable that I’ve become with these people that I worked up the courage to make a video featuring people other than myself. The videos are generally a lot of fun to make, and they’re a great way to share what I’ve been doing to my stateside audience. But, of course, my videos serve another purpose: they document my year in a way that text never could. Thanks to this uniquely 21st century technology, I will be able to look back at myself in decades to come and really remember what a great time I had with my friends.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll still be in touch.