Saturday, April 14, 2007

Explaining the Inexplicable

This was my speech for Friday Chapel about Study Abroad.

Inexplicably, over the course of five months I had become three different people.
It’s expected that study abroad will change you in ways that you would never imagine. We see things in a different way, from another angle, with a different lens. I gained many lenses abroad. When I came home I had bifocals.
When I left for Strasbourg, France, I left my family, my friends, and many of the aspects of me I thought were inexplicably connected. I was a specific person who liked chocolate, who was funny (sometimes) and who needed to be social and around people in order to feel safe and comfortable. I was bad at making decisions. I thought that Europe wasn’t doing too much with their economy. I thought that leaving meat out on the counter all day was a bad choice. All of these ideas were about to change.
When I arrived in France I knew very few of my Kalamazoo College colleagues and absolutely no one in Strasbourg. I was surrounded by people who were meeting me for the first time or who were getting to know me on a more personal level. I could make completely fresh first impressions. All of a sudden I was faced with a choice; should I remain the same person I have always been, or should I try something new? Could I fix things I didn’t like about myself? Create a new identity?
I decided to change some things, but not everything. I still went to dance classes I still listened to the same music and I still spoke with friends and family from home. But to my new friends in Strasbourg I became the girl who never refused chocolate, who was always joking and being funny and who could be alone for an entire day and walk around the city quietly with her own thoughts. I was learning how to make serious decisions for myself based on how I truly felt and what I sincerely wanted. Suddenly I was not only foreign to people around me but I was becoming foreign to myself.
I had to learn about this new Erin. What did she like to do for fun? She used to sit and talk with friends, go out to eat and dance. The new Erin liked to read more, to travel and to cook and bake for her host family. She knew what it was like to see a concentration camp instead of just learning about one. She had learned how to communicate with people with no language at all (simply nodding and gesticulating can get you pretty far). In learning about her I obviously learned about who I really was and what I was capable of.
I liked her. But sometimes I missed my old self. I missed my old ways of doing things that was either impossible or too difficult in Strasbourg. I became comfortable in the new me, but I was excited to return home to the way things used to be.
But I realized while hugging my mother upon my return home that the Strasbourg Erin couldn’t be the Post-Sudy-Abroad Erin. She wouldn’t work at home. But if my new friends know me as my Strasbourg identity and I was finally happy with who I had become, how could I go back home and to school and be both? Would I have to choose between the person who was cultivated from birth and the person who sprung up in Strasbourg? How could I choose?
I decided to create yet another Erin; one who embodied both the older and newer models, who had insight enough to see each for her faults and successes. I realized that stepping outside of both my original ideas before study abroad and my new found knowledge from Europe, that I could be complete. I could make decisions based on multifaceted thinking. I could understand both sides of the story. I don’t know how many more Erin’s are in my future, but while it seems impossible to explain my transformations I value each of them infinitely.


Anonymous BTE said...

I dunno, you seem like that same old Erin to me.
Still stinky.
Still bald (actually there are a few more hairs).
Still a creepy fake-recorder player.
But you ARE coming to Crystal Ball this year. Not all change is bad.

7:32 AM  

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