Planes never cease to amaze me in how quickly they can change the context in which we live. Eleven hours from the time I board my flight home from Thessaloniki, Greece my bed in the Queen Olga Hotel, my office at the American College of Thessaloniki, and this community that I have been existing in will be something only in my memory. My daily routine will drastically shift over the course of 24 hours. No longer will I be waking up, eating breakfast alongside students, going to workouts at the Thessaloniki Coastal Rowing Club, planning the week’s Global Experience lesson, grading papers, eating feta cheese, and supporting students through the activities of my role as International Coordinator.
In 10 days I am anticipating that feeling where my last three months suddenly feel so intangible. The students, the coworkers, the language, the food, and everything else that has defined my experience in Greece will suddenly be gone from my day to day life.
I’ll return to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I am grateful to have a room to call my own that will be exactly the same as I left it. Almost as if I never left.
I’ve felt this before. When I returned home in early September from a 10 day trip in Peru – the most beautiful trip experiencing the rugged Andes alongside inspiring and loving people – only to recognize that as intense and powerful an experience as it was, it just as soon felt like it was eons away. It’s a strange feeling. One that makes me want to crawl out of my skin at times because one constant during travel is this feeling of your perspective growing and shifting. And even if your physical self returns home in exactly the same state (which usually is a good thing) to a physical or social environment that is usually very similar to how you left it, oftentimes your mental and spiritual self goes through some sort of shift and expansion. A shift and expansion that then struggles to find its place or a way to continue thriving once you return to life as you knew it.
All of these odd and uncomfortable feelings about returning home are exactly what I taught my students this week in our Global Experience course. The term “shoeboxing” – the idea of having this impactful experience and then tucking it away in a box in your closet to return to your “regular” life – is very real for me as well.
But while this experience may come to feel so far away, it is the people that keep it alive in our minds and in our hearts. Maybe the impermanence of it all is what makes these experiences so beautiful. That despite the physical space being thousands of miles away, accepting the pause button on friendships formed through Northeastern University, at the Queen Olga Hotel, and the Coastal Rowing Club, this experience will remain alive through the people that I shared it with.