Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Home is Where the Permanent Address Is

I can remember to exact moment that I decided to move to Manhattan. I was standing in the middle of Times Square, fresh from dinner on the town and tickets to RENT, my first Broadway show. My girl friend and I stepped into the middle of Times Square and instead of feeling overwhelmed I let out a sigh of belonging. “I love this city,” I said to my girl friend. When she responded, “Why don’t you move here?” I was left literally speechless, racking my brain for an answer.

I grew up very attached to my hometown of West Seattle. On every family vacation I was afraid that something important was going to happen at home and I would miss out on the moment of a lifetime. I applied to college based on in-state tuition and proximity to lifelong friends and imagined settling down and building a family in the same zip code as my parents.

This all changed in my senior year of college. I toyed with the idea of transferring to an out-of-state school amidst changing my mind and my major almost seven times (hello, undeclared!), but I never had the guts to follow through. It wasn’t until a friend passed through the study abroad office and discovered a pamphlet for a quarter in Greece (a place I had always dreamed of and talked about going) that something clicked.

Of course, I was terrified. I didn’t pack for my three-month trip until the night before my flight departed. The layover in New York City to visit a friend was meant to break up my flight and ease myself into the trip. I had left the country before, but I had never spent more than three weeks away from home. I had no idea that those three days would change my life.

I went back to my friend’s dorm room after that night in Times Square and emailed my parents, “I think I want to live here one day.” I was convinced that I had just been given the perfect trial period- if I spent the next three months studying abroad homesick and miserable than I wouldn’t move, but if I came home to the same friends, family and city that I knew and loved then I was free to go anywhere in the world. As you may have guessed, Greece was amazing and a crowd of friends met me at the airport upon my return with balloons and a “Welcome Home” banner strung above our freeway exit.

Travelers are often characterized as “brave”, which was a label I had a hard time getting used to. Sure, a new place can be intimidating and keeping up long-distance friendships can take work, but when the worst-case scenario is coming home to a place that you love, it makes taking that first trip a whole lot easier.

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