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

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.

Opportunity Knocks Softly

Some of you may know that I spoke at my high school graduation. I guess I’m still proud of that speech, for the most part, but there’s one part in particular that sticks in my memory:

“Right now, I’m still a little scared. But I’m not going to face my future like a deer in headlights, because it’s my future. And it’s exciting.”
I have a confession to make: I lied. At that time, I wasn’t excited about the future, or scared either. I didn’t know what to think, because I don’t usually think that far ahead. All I knew was that I was looking at another long, hot Minnesota summer and at the end of it, I would be going away. I certainly couldn’t have guessed what I would actually be getting myself into. Change was coming, and, ironically enough, I was exactly like a deer in headlights (without the imminent threat of death, I suppose.)

During high school I came to develop an image of myself, a certain set of things that Mitchell Rysavy knows about himself and what he believes and what he wants to do with his life. Actually, if there’s one thing I’m most sure about, it’s my future self. Past Mitchell can be a jerk sometimes, but I’ve found out that future Mitchell is a pretty cool guy that you should totally hang out with sometime. So I’ve learned I don’t need to be too concerned with the future, because if I do my part now, future Mitchell’s got my back. Or… front? Whatever.

My freshman year ended up being the best and most challenging year of my life up to that point. Gone were any expectations set by anyone who knew me, and gone was any preconceived ideas of what Mitchell Rysavy would or should do when he walks into a room. Unlike many, I don’t think I changed that much, but I did notice that many of the truths that I held to be self-evident about myself started crumbling. I started to question their use as a foundation for Mitchell as a person, and in doing so I slowly redefined myself in this new light. I gave myself a tuneup, if you’re the kind of person that uses car metaphors for everything.

The point is, after a successful freshman year at UMD, I somehow managed to ensure that I wasn’t going right back for a successful sophomore year – instead, I’d be going to Worcester taking a gamble in the success department. Why? I get this question lot from everyone, and from myself most of all. Why did I come to the University of Worcester? Why Worcester? Why England?

The truth is, even after three months here, I don’t have a nice, prepackaged answer to these questions. I don’t really know – but logically there must be a reason. I didn’t really choose the University of Worcester specifically, and – interestingly enough – I didn’t come here for academics. I just came because I saw an opportunity to do something different, and it fit with the new Mitchell – the same Mitchell who found his way to classroom on his third day on campus, and listened to a presentation about coming to some place called Worcester.

I didn’t do it because I have some greater life plan that it fulfills, because I still don’t think that far ahead. No, I came here because I saw that I was changing and I liked it, and I trusted that post-Worcester Mitchell would be near-unrecognizable from the person that gave that speech not so very long ago – I just needed a little push to get there.