I was not ready for my first day of classes this semester – I was still waiting on two textbooks to come in, I only had a one-subject notebook for all four of my classes, and I was almost late to class because I could not find the room in Chambers. I am in my third year here – I should have figured this out by now!
But being abroad in the fall last semester turned me around in ways I did not expect. Change has always been hard for me; when I get comfortable and settled in a place I want to stay there, and big moves and alterations in landscape and people always leave me disconcerted for a few weeks afterwards until I settle down once more. Of course, it was wonderful to see my friends at Davidson, but after that first week all I wanted was to go back to Panama. I missed everything about it: the weather, the food, the people, the field trips, and the free time. And this longing, this intense nostalgia, made me question what exactly I was doing here at Davidson at all – a scary question to try and answer or even think about too deeply. So, instead of dwelling too much, I threw myself into the other commitments I found myself responsible for seeing through, and hoped that I would soon settle into my usual Davidson rhythm.
I did settle down a bit, going from class to class, learning and absorbing and stretching my mind. I enjoy my classes: they challenge me and encourage me to think harder and more critically as I delve into the Environmental Studies major. But that “thinking harder” part means busy nights, non-existent weekends, and daily stress – the parts that all of us know good and well by now are just part of the typical Davidson experience. Throughout this first month of school, all I thought about were ways to not be here. I basically wanted to escape from everything at Davidson.
A few days after I realized that I was longing to escape, I got a letter from my friend who lives in Atlanta. I had written to him earlier about my lack of enthusiasm for the workload and intensity of the upcoming semester, and how it was making me want to be anywhere but Davidson. He replied with something that struck me square on:
“In reality, where we are is what matters now, and how we maximize the present dictates where we go in the future.”
It was after reading these words that it first hit me how backwards my thinking had been during these first few weeks. No matter how much reminiscing I did about Panama, it would not change the fact that I am enrolled in the Spring 2016 semester at Davidson, and I will be here for its entirety regardless of how much I want to go lay on the beach. How would I enjoy my one semester as a junior at Davidson if I pretended for the entire time that I was not even here? What if I missed out on fun and engaging opportunities at Davidson because I spent the whole semester wallowing in what I no longer have? Panama will still be there this summer, two years from now, or anytime I want to return, but my time as a Davidson student only lasts so long. Soon enough I will be reminiscing with similar nostalgia about Davidson.
This is not to say that I am discounting the importance of my study abroad experience. What is important now, I think, is to figure out how to continue to think critically about what I learned abroad and how I can apply that knowledge to my work here. And with that, embrace the idea that the work I do here at Davidson can be just as important and meaningful as the work I did abroad.
At any stage of your life, I think my friend’s words can be applied to how you are living in this world. This is the present, and if you spend your time now stuck in the past, you will never move forward, and if you are always thinking about the future you will never get the choice to enjoy what you already have. If I could not learn to love my life at Davidson while I am here, how will I settle in at any place I go from here? If I approach every place as if it is a stepping stone to somewhere else, somewhere better, then I may never find what I am looking for.
So where do I go from here? I can try my best to minimize the stress I have from schoolwork, but I think that there are other ways to make my Davidson experience memorable. I just have to be here to find them.
Emma Johnson `17 is an Environmental Studies major from Washington, D.C.. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org