There are some things that no one can tell you about … whatever you want to call it… “study abroad” “travel” “living abroad” – removing yourself from a home, whatever it might be, to see the world in a different way in a different place. There are some things they don’t tell you. And there are some things they can’t tell you. And there are some things in between.
This is one of them.
They can’t tell you what kind of person you are. Because I think you’d know it all ready but you hadn’t realized it until you are there. They can’t tell you about yourself. Until you’re sitting on a porch eating suya with four Nigerians talking about religion when they are devout and you are not. They do not understand “agnostic” and repeatedly ask if you’ve accepted Jesus. This is uncomfortable. There’s no other word for it. Uncomfortable. It’s an interesting feeling.
I probably learned this in some class years ago, but I think there’s a human aversion to being happy. Biologically we strive for a certain comfort. We constantly switch between hunger and fullness both physically and mentally. We spend most of the time trying to strive for a certain stillness and rest from our work. But when we get it we often feel a certain “Sunday neurosis” in which we realize that the rest isn’t that fulfilling anyway – maybe life isn’t the fulfilling for us at all – but then it’s back to work and we forget all about it until we find that rest we so craved again. But even when we are happy, we still strive to be “content.”
But what they don’t tell about yourself is that this contentedness our society revolves around – that comfort that we all are striving to possess – is a big lie.
The reason why you came is not to be comfortable. And all those moments you are just thinking ‘god I need to leave. I need to be in my room where I don’t have to navigate or do anything about this or constantly think I’m being cheated or tried here.’ The point is not to return to your room and huddle until the next unfortunate episode occurs. It’s to meet the world you were so eager to greet and be uncomfortable. It’s to become comfortable again, balance, and then throw that all away, to burn all that you’d worked for. To work hard to become the same, and then to make yourself different. Because learning for you is not linear. It’s as Heidegger says, a great “pull, which whether we admit it or not, draws us back to itself with it’s self-withdrawing ‘centre’” It’s a push and pull of tension and release and uncomfortable moments, asking how to dry your clothes, or being repremanded for not greeting someone or eating in the right way. It’s a constant ache for a different place to call home, it’s a heart wrenching pull away from the familiar, it’s the uncomfortable silences, and moments between two words in a language that is not your own, stumbling on sentences with laughing children, dropping pronouns late at night.
It’s that you like being uncomfortable. Which sounds uncomfortable. And it is. But that’s you and you’re weird and that’s why you’re here and that’s what they can’t tell you because it would probably sound rude. And, hey, that’d just be uncomfortable too.