September, 1982. It is late. My first day at a new school in a new country surrounded by new people is behind me. I survived it–kind of. My body stayed present while my mind reeled at so much newness. It traveled away from painful reality and clung to memories, wishes and yearning. I am at BFA because I have to be, not because I want to be. And the pain of losing all that was familiar is compounded by gut-wrenching incomprehension.
I stand by the window of my new room in my home-placement in Schliengen where BFA is boarding me for the year. The dorms are full–they hadn’t realized until my arrival that they had overbooked–and I am stuck in a place that frightens me, with a family I will grow to love only years later…post-trauma, post-goodbyes, post-anger. But not now. I stand at the window watching the taillights of my parents’ car grow smaller, then disappear as they round the corner at the end of the street.
The certainty of loss washes over me. Certainty–not an illusion, not a feeling, but a marrow-deep emptiness that breathes and thrashes and begs. It isn’t just my home I’ve lost, or my family, or my country, or my friends. It is my “anchoredness”. I feel suddenly released into a void I neither want nor embrace.
The year ahead, my ninth grade year, was a reflection of the pain in which it began. I made friends, but they didn’t quench my thirst. I became familiar with new places, but they didn’t sate my hunger. I learned to become a part of this strange MK subculture, but I still felt inexplicably and unbearably adrift.
Why revisit this unpleasant chapter now, as the end of BFA’s current school year approaches? Because with each ending comes new change, and I know that some of you might wonder how you’ll navigate strange, uncharted waters. My lessons came years after the void, when hindsight allowed for clearer understanding. The mistakes I made, which I encourage you to avoid, were:
– Never saying a final goodbye. “But I’ll be back sometime,” you might think. You may–but the place you’ll find then will not be the place you left. So say goodbye to BFA as if you’ll never see it again–and make those goodbyes count. Revisit old haunts, reminisce about the highlights with friends who shared the memories, invest in any way you can in those who live here with you. The best way to feel still connected to a place is to know that your influence lives on in the lives you brushed.
– Wishing everything was different. I spent years evaluating BFA’s shortcomings and deciding how it needed to change in order to be what I wanted it to be. It was an exercise in futility and frustration! If there is something you can do to make changes that improve your new home (in love and diplomacy), do it. If there is nothing you can do, acknowledge the weaknesses, accept that they are what they are, and spend your energy on finding the silver linings and strengths you might have missed while whining!
– Expecting others to know what I need. Why didn’t anyone understand that I needed friends? Why didn’t my teachers intuit that I was having trouble with the switch to English? Why didn’t my hosts sense that I was floundering? Uh…because I didn’t make any effort to MAKE friends? Because I never TOLD anyone that I was struggling with languages? Because I never EXPRESSED my emotions around others? Duh. Be real. Express needs. Pursue desires. ’nuff said.
There’s more–there’s a lot more. But this is long enough and some of you readers are probably already asleep and drooling on your keyboards. Just track me down if you want to spraech about das! FYI, my entrance into college was no smoother than my high school initiation. I guess it takes some of us years and repeated pain to learn life’s greatest lessons. The good news is that my reentry to North America for a year in 2004 was smooth as can be–so yup, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!
Love and prayers for you…