I had to take another break. I knew I had just taken one three minutes ago, but my back would probably go out if I didn’t set down the box for another second. This box was too heavy, too important to risk dropping it in the middle of the street out of fatigue.
This was my life circa August 2019— struggling through downtown Stamford to carry a box of possessions that I intended to ship to Colgate for pickup about a week later. I must say, that was one of the more unusual logistical dilemmas I’ve been in, but in a year when I found myself in different states and countries on a seemingly weekly basis, it felt pretty standard.
Let me back-track a bit. I’ve spent a total of three and a half weeks at home this year. I’m from Los Angeles, so having a fluid, complicated sense of place is normal for me going to school across the country. I have always done well travelling and living on my own. However, this year presented a whole new challenge for me. I spent about five months in Edinburgh, Scotland studying abroad during the spring semester and then interning in Stamford, Connecticut for two months over the summer. During both of those periods, I travelled frequently on the weekends, ranging from totally different countries to friends’ houses 20 minutes down the road. Even though I’ve generally been a confident traveler, never before had the phrase “living life out of a suitcase” applied more appropriately to my life than in 2019.
I’m now back to being a regular Colgate student, and although life throws surprises at me on a daily basis, I’ve lost this spontaneity that led me to some of my life’s greatest memories. Gone are the days of cheap RyanAir flights and easy Amtrak rides. Having a sense of place is a great feeling as you should always strive to be comfortable in whatever space you occupy for a sustained period of time. What I’ve taken away from this year most profoundly, however, is that forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and re-imagining your individual sense of place is one of the greatest endeavors you can undertake for your own growth.
In the most classic Colgate “did-you-know-I-went-abroad” way, I have the same answer whenever someone asks me what my favorite memory from this year was. For my first trip out of the UK, I made an intrepid decision to buy one round-trip weekend ticket to Porto. 72 hours before takeoff. By myself. Without any prior knowledge of Portuguese. Or an Airbnb.
What began as a completely impulsive carpe-diem idea became one of the greatest experiences of my life. At the hostel where I ended up staying, I met an incredible set of diverse personalities from all over the world, joyfully exploring the city with them as if we had known each other for years. Breathtaking river views, vibrant architecture, delicious food— Porto is an enchanting place for anyone to visit, and the spontaneity with which I was able to experience its magic made it all the more fulfilling.
That short-lived escape has colored my sense of place ever since. I realized once I returned to Edinburgh that the only thing holding me back from having positively enriching, discomforting experiences in new places was the voice inside my head telling me “no.” From then on, my priorities were saving money and using those savings to make the most of the time I could afford to spend away from wherever my homebase was. I constantly made sure I could execute this aim of mine while equally prioritizing my affinity for Edinburgh.
My rose-colored vision when it came to travel certainly changed when I set up shop for the second time in 2019 in a brand new place, lovely Stamford, Connecticut. With so much free time after work and on weekends, I reinforced my wanderlust from abroad with new energy for the American northeast region. Blue L.L. Bean duffle bag in hand, I would catch the shuttle to the train station from where I worked and embark on a weekend’s journey to wherever my friends told me there was an open spot to sleep. Going out of my way to have weekends like this made it an unforgettable summer reconnecting with friends and family I had not seen in some time.
Returning to Colgate for senior year was the moment when I could finally exhale and breathe after eight months of packing and unpacking suitcases. It felt amazing to finally be back with friends and faculty I either had not seen since I left for abroad in the fall or possibly since the end of sophomore year. Re-evaluating your sense of place is important precisely for this reason. When I made these long awaited reunions, I felt like a better person from who I was when we had last spoken face to face. That feeling of breathing new life into a familiar place— that’s when you know that having no sense of place to hinder your being, makes sense when it’s all said and done.