This semester, no matter how hard you look, you won’t find me on campus. You can check the most remote corner of the Kelvin Smith Library and search every classroom to no avail. I will be studying for the year at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. However, just because I’m on the other side of the world doesn’t mean I’m off the map: I’ll keep writing for The Observer, trying to find undertones of the 216 in Cape Town.
In the few days remaining before departure, as I packed and mentally prepared, a few parallels between arranging for a new semester at Case Western Reserve University and year abroad have surfaced.
Before each semester, every diligent CWRU student does their research. They turn to ratemyprofessors.com, checking their upcoming professors’ rankings and chili pepper status. At the eleventh hour, the night before their first class, they finally take it upon themselves to discover when and where their classes will actually transpire.
Similarly, I am doing my own research: what fun things can I do in Cape Town, how far away from the university I live, what the exchange rate is and even what classes I am taking. Google is becoming my best friend as I try to find answers to dozens of questions.
In this high tech digital age, you are bound to have a roommate who is kicking off the new semester with a fancy gadget. “Check out my touch screen Keurig!” or “Oh my gosh, guys! My calculator graphs in 3D!” or in my case, “Look at this international plug adaptor: it works everywhere!” It turns out that no matter where you are in the world, there is nothing quite like having a new gizmo.
Possibly the most daunting task in my days ahead is packing everything I’ll need. How am I supposed to pack a year’s worth of stuff into a suitcase? It was hard enough fitting my life into an eight by nine foot dorm room, but now I’m limited to stingy baggage allowances. My Tetris skills are being called upon.
As I’m packing, a thousand scenarios and reasons for bringing certain clothes flash through my mind. I need clothes that are 100 percent versatile, zero percent boring, will last for 11 months and reflect who I am. It’s like planning outfits for formal sorority recruitment on steroids. I need class that could be casual enough for day one but won’t wrinkle. It’s about dressing to impress in any and every situation, without ever compromising on myself.
I am definitely not looking forward to my 18-hour plane flight. Sitting through long things is boring, daunting and cramps my style (not to mention my legs). But really, with three semesters of CWRU behind me, I should be used to watching time tick by ridiculously slowly with little to no entertainment and being stuck in the middle of a row with no way out.
Honestly, I don’t know what is worse: a flight over the Prime Meridian and Equator or a 75-minute class in the late afternoon, right during nap time.
At times Cleveland can be a dangerous place. Without the guidance and traffic stopping super powers of Officer Mark, I for sure would have been hit by a Healthline bus by now. So, if Officer Mark has a lifeguard doppelganger at the Cape Town beaches to save me from the Great Whites, that would be great.
Despite the distance, I will still have to reassure my parents. One of my first tasks upon arrival will be to call, email or send a carrier pigeon to my parents to inform them of my safe arrival. They are still going to want to know that I’m getting enough sleep, and going to class, and doing homework, and being a responsible student, blah, blah, blah. No matter the timezone, parents are the same.
Even though I’m analyzing flight details instead of syllabi, it doesn’t mean that the same mixture of excitement, anticipation and intimidation aren’t present.
Semesters at CWRU or abroad both hold the potential for growth, fun, happiness, stress, and even despair. Wherever you are in the world and no matter how you spend 2014, challenges will arise and wonderful opportunities will appear. I might be leaving American soil for my adventure, but that is far from the only exciting way to spend the year. Formal recruitment is scary as hell, so do it. Email another and another professor begging for a research position. Road trip to Panama City Beach or fly to the real Panama for spring break.
Go for it. Prepare for it: Do your research, buy the gizmos, pack the right clothes, ask Officer Mark for some tips and call your parents. Then launch yourself into 2014. Grow in the year’s adversity and bask in the day-to-day happiness.
And remember—no matter how far from home or your comfort zone you are, the same sun is setting brilliantly over the Cleveland skyline.
Heather O’Keeffe is a sophomore majoring biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. She is spending 2014 at the University of Cape Town. She is wearing her ugly Christmas sweater well into January. #NoShame.