The day I graduated from college, my countdown to Malaysia began at a whopping 230 days. While my excitement for the trip was already brimming back then, my departure seemed so far away that there was almost no point in thinking about it. To avoid unnecessary anxiety, I knew I needed to continue living my life normally for the seven-and-a-half intermittent months, keeping myself busy and looking neither backward nor too far ahead.
I have accomplished way more in that time than I ever expected. I was fortunate enough to get cast in two local community theater productions, solidifying a community for myself in my new hometown of Belcamp, MD and making some unexpected but terrific friends along the way. I took two extended trips to New York City to visit my college friends, simultaneously discovering a potential path for my future in a previously intimidating urban jungle. I spent some long-awaited quality time with both halves of my family; although regrettably some of it came under tragic circumstances, it all was greatly appreciated.
Most notably, I was offered an incredible opportunity as a long-term substitute in a 4th grade Special Education classroom at an amazing school near my house called William Paca – Old Post Road. I had planned on serving as a daily substitute when I first got home, so when this extended position presented itself I was at once pleasantly surprised and intimidated by the responsibilities it entailed. I graciously accepted it after some consideration, and I went in with an open mind and a strong resolve to put my best foot forward. What I was unprepared for, however, was how quickly the people at the school would capture my heart.
I had never worked (at least titularly) with special education students before, and it was a consistently challenging and eye-opening experience. Nevertheless, I fell in love with the children from the moment I stepped foot in their classroom. Additionally, I was blessed by inspirational mentors on all sides in the form of my coworkers. The months I spent there taught me the true meaning of being a professional educator, implementing tough love effectively and giving stability to children whose lives are otherwise constantly changing. The staff went unbelievably out of their way to make me feel welcome and appreciated in spite of the temporary nature of my position. By the time I walked my students out to the bus for the final time, I could not stop the tears from flowing. Even as I prepare to ship off, a piece of my heart remains at that school, and I gratefully am bringing a piece of their love along with me to share with my Malaysian students-to-be.
Now, here I sit in my Belcamp bedroom, seven-and-a-half months later with an oddly equally-whopping three days to go. I have been surprising myself with how I am handling the propinquity of my departure. As I sit just below the summit of the first drop of this momentous roller coaster, I feel neither fear and sadness at the prospect of leaving nor giddy anticipation to get started. Rather, I feel somewhat numb, likely the result of these two extreme emotions canceling each other out. It’s unfortunate because I know I should really be savoring every minute of my time left at home, but while I am spending my last days stateside with my family, my mind is zoned out. It’s as though my soul took an early flight over to Malaysia and is just waiting for my body to catch up to it.
On a meta level, I don’t think this is a bad thing necessarily, especially considering how much pressure I put on myself to “savor” my time in college and how well that worked out for me. In a lot of ways, my last days here are more about my family than about me. This is not in a funereal sense; of course my family members are all elated that I have this opportunity. Instead, it’s because while I go off and make lifelong memories overseas, their lives will continue as usual, just with a little less of me in them. While I expect some degree of inevitable homesickness over the coming year, I have gathered that these last few days together are perhaps even more precious to my family (especially my younger cousins) than they are to me. The struggle for me this past week has thus been combatting my checked-out haze to give them all the attention and love they crave and deserve. This has been difficult on top of needing to pack my suitcases, tidy up my personal assets and try to stay healthy (as I have been feeling a tad phlegmy).
Ultimately, though, I’m mostly relieved that I am feeling so calm about this whole transition. Much like my Paca students, I faced a number of significant changes in my life during my formative years and I did not always handle them ideally. Preparing for this adventure has made me feel more mature, organized, self-aware and capable than perhaps I have ever felt before. I am ready for whatever this next chapter holds.
In preparation, I keep reminding myself of a few key things. I want to write them down here in case I forget them in the hullaballoo of my new lifestyle over there.
- I will have a worst day in Malaysia, but I will also have a best day.
- I will have to make sacrifices in Malaysia, but my experiences will reward me.
- I have more to learn from the people I meet there than I have to teach.
- As an American representative, my actions and words in Malaysia will carry more weight.
- If I do not try something when it is offered to me, I may never have the chance again.
- Once this experience is over, it is o-v-e-r and I will spend the rest of my life looking back at this period of time with fondness and longing.
- This truly is just the beginning.
If I can remember all of that, I can face anything that comes my way.
Yes, even the “squatty potty”.
Signing off one last time from the U.S. of A.,