In the last year, I've spent eight months in Ohio, two in Michigan, and two (split between Christmas Break, Spring Break, and the first half of June) at home. Living eight to ten hours from home is painful at times. I've missed out on my brother's sixteenth birthday, his football games, his many, many growth spurts, and the very handsome long hairstyle he sported this fall. I've missed my mother's birthday and Mother's Day, my father's preaching and Father's Day, my friends, Thanksgiving, Easter, weddings, funerals, new cousins, theater productions at my old high school, and so much more. As much as it hurts, missing out on those experiences makes me so much more thankful for the opportunities I do have to come home. My family has done a lot to work around the distance. For example, this Thanksgiving I had a change of plans that freed up my break. I wanted to be with my family so they spent their time, money, and gas driving out to Ohio to pick me up and bring me home for the first time since June. Additionally, when I'm at school, I can call my parents at any time and they'll talk to me even when I'm just being ridiculous or goofy. Really, I live at a safe distance. I'm very far away and miss out on a lot but that distance lets me have my independence and my own experiences while still being close enough to get home fairly easily if I need to.
Over break, I think my parents realized that this wouldn't be the case next year. After our guests left on Thanksgiving we sat down to discuss my study abroad options. The conversation revolved exclusively around my safety. At the time, I was irritated because, as my parents pointed out, they were exposing my subconscious insecurities about studying abroad. In retrospect, I see that the conversation was less about whether or not I could handle myself and be safe abroad and more about my parents' concern that if something should happen to me while abroad, they couldn't get to me quickly. The reverse is true as well, if something should happen at home, I wouldn't be able to get back quickly. That's terrifying for all of us, I think. While my parents probably did, I certainly didn't realize just how alone I'll be next year. Of course the study abroad programs all have excellent support networks and I'll make friends and have the best time of my life but it's not going to be the same. Because of the time difference, I won't be able to call my parents whenever I want and if I feel homesick I can't just ask to come home over a break. Essentially, I'm going to be stranded but I'm going to be fine and I'm going to love it.
This fall, a friend from home explained that the distance is only as great as you make it. You can let it interfere and become this overwhelming, depressing thing or you can accept it as a challenge. As usual, I plan to do the latter and I'm sure my family feels the same way. It's going to be very different, I'll be living at a pretty unsafe distance, but as scary as that is it's also exciting! This is an opportunity for so much creativity and fun in the way we keep in touch and support each other, there's so much possibility here and, trust me, I've already got more than a few tricks up my sleeve. So, Mom, Dad, Will, Everybody, Me...don't worry. Yes, the safety net is going away but the support system will still be there, stronger than ever, and that's really all I need! There's going to be a lot of adjusting and probably more than a few nervous moments but we're all going to be just fine. I know I never learned to ride a bike but just pretend I did and let me use this analogy: The training wheels are coming off but I'm still wearing my helmet! I'll always wear my helmet.