Freshman Year, Take Two

“Dear Risk Taker…”

That was how the emails I received from LCC International University started. A small, private college in Klaipeda, Lithuania, LCC got connected with my home university this year, giving me an opportunity to study abroad there. The university appeals to applicants by building them up as adventurers: stickers reading “I am a Risk Taker” are given out during recruitment visits, and the program’s emphasis on change and travel is preached everywhere from its panels to its pamphlets.

When LCC greeted me as a risk taker, honestly, I dismissed it as flattery. I was going abroad, sure, but it wasn’t nearly in as “legitimate” a situation as students who, say, live with a host family or study (and communicate in) a second language. I was going to a private, Christian, English-speaking campus. I’d be in a different culture, sure, but it’s still Europe, still “western” civilization. I saw it as something new, something exciting, something a little nerve-wracking, but not something I’d consider a “risk.”

Now, I give the LCC and its marketing a little more credit. Lithuania may not be unmanageable, but it’s more of a risk than I anticipated.

Which isn’t a terrible thing. It’s a good thing, actually. Getting out of my comfort zone is something I need to do. I just didn’t expect it to happen quite so quickly. Classes start tomorrow and I’m actually ready for the routine, just so I can have something I know how to anticipate.

I knew I wouldn’t understand everyone speaking around me. I didn’t know it would be because they’re speaking Russian, Ukrainian, and Latvian in addition to Lithuanian. I knew I’d have to have some trial runs before learning to navigate the city. I didn’t know my first (and hardest) lesson would come sitting at a bus stop from 10:00 to 11:00pm, waiting for a bus that had stopped running 30 minutes prior. I forgot how freaking. exhausting. that first trip to the grocery store can be — and how that exhaustion is magnified when you don’t read the language, you’re waiting for other students, and you’re converting in your head trying to figure out whether the price for tomatoes is reasonable.

But the blessings come with the curses over here. My roommates who could speak circles around me in Ukrainian and Latvian are also know what it’s like to study abroad, so they’re happy to switch and let me into the conversation. The grocery stores are distinctly Eastern European, but their ingredients that are accessible and familiar (even if the fruit I like is a little pricier). And a lot of the unexpected is fantastic, too. A rave-style dance club as an orientation tradition, for example. Or a day trip to a fifteenth-century castle surrounded by a lake and accessible by paddleboat. In six days, I’ve visited four new cities and moved to one new town, albeit temporarily. I’m exhausted, I’m nervous, and I’m very, very excited.

It feels like being a freshman again. And it’s tricky being a freshman. There have already been days when I asked myself what the hell I’m doing on another continent, trying to make new friends and run errands in Lithuanian when I could be at home, speaking English in a town I know with people I know.

But it’s fun too. I’d rather be worn out than restless anyway. I know it’s not over. The tears are coming. They haven’t hit yet, but they will. And that’s okay. They’ll come and they’ll pass and classes will begin and it will be good. They always do. It always is.

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