The night before, Saturday May 19th, I maybe got 4 hours of sleep. I could not stop my mind from running. I would drift in and out of sleep, often waking up scared as hell. I have been so excited for this trip for so long. Who wouldn’t be? A full month of living in paradise: the beaches of Jamaica. But for me, the week prior to departure was full of anxieties and nerves. At first it was hard for me to place all those negative feelings, and further to make sense of them, but as I sat buckled in seat 14D on Caribbean Airline Flight BW 044, I began to put things into perspective.
Before going through security, I said one last goodbye to my Dad. Boy that was tough. I could feel myself beginning to cry as I gave him a hug. I felt a little pathetic. I would only be gone for a month. But then I realized, I have never been out of contact with my family or friends for that long. Of course I can email and Skype periodically, but there is a stark difference between that and reaching for my phone any time I want to call dear old Mom or Dad. I think that is my biggest anxiety heading into this trip: being so disconnected from home. I already miss everyone. Thinking about all this makes me realize how dependent I am on the relationships I have. I expect texts from friends almost every minute of the day. It makes me feel connected; like I matter to someone. It may be a bit silly, my attachment to my cell phone, but it is so much more than a material item. Being away from my home of Severna Park or my second home in Northern Philadelphia freaks me out. I will be disconnected from so many people and so many relationships. I know it is only a month; that I can used Facebook, email, and Skype, but for right now that is only mildly comforting.
As I prepare for the month ahead of me, I have to remember that although I will feel a bit disconnected, it feels worse than it is. All the people I care about and who care about me will be thinking about me constantly. Although there will be days where I may not hear from everyone I love from back home, they will be in touch often enough. Beyond that, I will make some wonderful connections here in Jamaica. Every participant in my program has feelings of anxiety about our trip: it is normal. Going through the same experience, with such deep emotional feeling, I expect some of us will grow quite close. I may form some relationships here that I will never forget. And if not, perhaps I can take this experience as a way to develop a bit more self-independence, and realize I can do things on my own.
This fear of disconnection is not the only feeling I have departing of course. There are a few more worries…What if I don’t like the food? Will I be able to communicate well with the native Jamaicans? Will they see me as more than a white foreigner? Will I be able to accept it if they don’t? Can I balance my money well? Will I get sick? Can I handle the heat? The list really goes on and on. But as I sit here, I have decided there is no point in wasting time worrying. I know that this month will put me through some obstacles I have never experienced, but I have a gut feeling that it will all be worth while in the end. I just need to stay positive and keep my head up. There will be days (and probably many nights) that are very difficult for me to get through, but the days of fun, happiness, and adventure will outshine all of the bad ones. I accept that my emotions will be absolutely wild and out of control most of my time here, but I am choosing to see this as a good thing, realizing that after a week or two of culture shock, most of these emotions will be positive. Some of my happiest moments are floating in the beach waters of Bethany Beach, Delaware. How much more wonderful will these moments be in Jamaica?!?! And working in the Primary School? Working with children puts me at peace and brings a fulfillment to my life that is simply indescribable. And all the adventures I’ll go on: hiking, visiting Ocho Rios, seeing the Bob Marley Museum. It’s going to be simply amazing.
So my game plan for Jamaica is to follow my favorite singer Ben Howard’s motto: keep your head up, keep your heart strong. As I have established, this month is going to be scary as hell for me, but I am going to look on the bright side, realizing how lucky I am to have this experience. There is no way I am going to waste it focusing on my nerves. Instead, I am going to keep my heart strong; full of positive emotions and feelings of excitement and joy. Occasionally, my worries will be exposed, but as a realistic and logical person, I accept this and hope to learn from these feelings. Day by day, I’ll take this adventure. And day by day I think I’ll come to realize how wonderful my choice to study abroad for a summer semester was.
First and foremost however, I am in dire need of a nap. A full day of traveling and intense culture shock will do that to you. So it’s off to my bed, where I plan to pass out listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore…they are right out my window for goodness sakes!