The Opposite of Loneliness
Updated: Aug 25, 2019
I guess I didn’t realize how much Spanish you can forget after two years. Especially when you’re thrown into a new house, with new people, and try to get your last two brain cells to function after being awake for 24 hours.
I’m writing this from my new bed in Heredia, Costa Rica, where I’ll be sleeping for the next 63 days (or nine weeks). I don’t know how to comprehend that number, or Spanish in general, or what I’ve gotten myself into. As much as I told myself I wouldn’t regret this decision, I keep asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Did I just make a big mistake?”
Why I wanted to study abroad
So, let’s go back to February of this year. I was having a crisis about what I was going to do this summer, and as an insecure perfectionist surrounded by people who seem to have their life together, I was terrified that I’d be stranded in Michigan again.
No hard feelings towards Michigan, of course. But I’ve lived there for my entire life; I grew up in Grosse Pointe (a suburb of Detroit) and currently go to school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, only an hour from my childhood home.
I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I’d gone to school out of state. I dreamt of going to Washington University in St. Louis, but financially I wasn’t able to accept their offer. Now, I look around and see a lot of people just like me at my university and in my classes: born and raised in Michigan with little other knowledge of the world.
Grosse Pointe is a privileged, wealthy, white suburb. It’s called “the bubble” because most people living there are convinced they don’t have to leave. Most of them will return after college (or never leave at all) to live out the rest of their lives with people just like them.
I’m definitely not one of those people. I want to get out as soon as possible.
Anyways, so back to February. I’d applied to at least 20 internships around the country and hadn’t heard back from any of them. For months, I woke up every morning with a stomach ache and only ate one meal a day, completely paralyzed by panic and shame. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to do anything productive with my summer, that I should have been doing more for the past three years, that I was falling behind. I was exhausted every day but kept my body awake to apply to more jobs, complete extra assignments, and generally try to combat this new kind of existential stress.
In a state of panic, I looked back on a Barcelona study abroad program through my university that I found last fall. It was perfect: I’d be able to keep up with my Spanish skills, take a marketing class, and travel to Spain! But out of fear of not getting in, I didn’t apply. I’d already missed the deadline by the time I changed my mind.
Something then made me realize that I needed to study abroad this summer. I have the rest of my life to work, I’ve always wanted to travel by myself, and I knew I needed to get back into Spanish. I spent most of my freshman year speaking Spanish for 11 hours per week through my college’s immersive language program, which ended in a regular UMich class about globalization taught in Spanish. But I hadn’t spoken the language since.
So, I reached out to one of my best friends, Nina, whose brothers had studied abroad with a third-party company called SOL Education. Every time I would go to her house and mention that I was taking Spanish, her mom would tell me how amazing this company was and how I needed to use them. After hours of researching, an hour on the phone with Mrs. White, and four calls with my parents to assure them I would be safe, I applied to the Costa Rica program on the day the papers were due.
Why Costa Rica?
I chose to go to Costa Rica instead of another Spanish-speaking country (i.e. Spain, like my original plan) for a few reasons…
I’ve always wanted to go to Costa Rica. For the slower pace of life, the almost-vegan food, sustainability, and the incredible nature. I get a lot of energy from being in nature, which I wouldn’t have gotten in most European countries.
Though I do still want to go to Barcelona, Costa Rica was definitely the best place for me to go for a study abroad. I have plenty of friends who go to Europe to study abroad but end up traveling outside the country for most of their trips. I wanted this to be an immersive experience, within a country that I’ve never been to before, and get an experience I know I’d never be able to have otherwise.
Generally, I think it’s going to be a really beneficial thing to meet new people from outside Michigan and from different backgrounds. I’m trying really, really hard to pop the “bubble” I’ve lived in for my entire life, and studying abroad with people from my university wouldn’t do me any favors on that front. Plus, it makes the experience more special because these few weeks will be the only time my cohort will ever be in the same place at the same time.
So much adventure awaits! I’d much rather go zip lining or rafting or hiking than walk around a bunch of museums and look at buildings, though I do still enjoy that. I’m trying to explore and immerse myself, which is why I’ve chosen to come to Heredia, Costa Rica.
The Opposite of Loneliness
So, here I am. I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours (minus a small nap after coming to my Mama Tica’s house) from flying between Detroit to Miami, then Miami to San José. I read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan on the plane ride to Miami (from start to finish — I literally flew through it) and was eerily reminded of myself and what drives me.
The book is a collection of stories and essays by Keegan, a Yale grad who died in a car accident at age 21. It’s been on my Goodreads shelf for at least four years now and I’ve gotten mixed reviews on it, but my friend Tom gave it to me in a book swap before I left so I thought I’d give it a go. I’m glad I did.
Keegan and I have identical writing styles — short, to-the-point, sometimes overly reflective and dramatic. I resonated with her a lot as a narrator which made me think a lot about where I am in my journey as a writer (and a human being) at 21 years old.
She also goes further into depth about life choices and the balance between finding a career path that pays well and one that’s fulfilling. In “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” she interviewed her fellow Yale students and asked if they wanted to follow their passions or make a lot of money out of college. She also goes further into depth about life choices and the balance between finding a career path that pays well and one that’s fulfilling (considering 25 percent of employed Yale graduates will enter the consulting or finance industry).
As a writer, I think about this a lot. Reading this book made me feel like I was doing the right thing by pursuing this as a field, by telling important stories, instead of selling my soul to a consulting firm. It will be hard, but it’s the best use of my time and skills — and no one knows how much time we’ll have.
The book moved me so much that I left it on my seat in the Miami airport for someone else to pick up (see photo above). Because it came into my life at the right time, I wanted it to enter someone else’s at the right time, too.
Though I’m traveling alone, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely — it’s actually the opposite.
My first day in Heredia
At the San José airport, I found my directors and met a few people from the program (Steph, Jennifer, and Emiliano). They dropped us off one by one at our Mama Tica’s houses (our Mama Tica is our host mothers, or “Costa Rican mother”).
When I got to my house, I have to say I was on the verge of a panic attack. I didn’t remember hardly any Spanish, and my host mother watched me eat while trying to ask me about myself. Her friends came over and also asked me questions that I couldn’t answer, and I finally figured out how to say I was going to nap. So I did.
After that, my roommate (Delaney) came home and made me feel a little more at home. We ended up going to a bar called Otto’s near our house with her friends Ryan and Rey, and even though I was sleep deprived, I had a great time.
As I lay here in my new bed, I’m realizing that I’m just outside of my comfort zone right now. But I have over two months to figure things out and grow because of it — I’ve learned Spanish once, so I can do it again.
I think I’m going to be okay.