May 13 – 20, 2015
Yeah… I did that. Not something I would normally do during a program like this, and definitely not what I would recommend to anyone who is studying abroad or carrying out his/her Fulbright. I don’t recommend doing this kind of trip mid-grant because a) international flights are expensive, even more-so when living off of a grant, b) it takes you out of your new environment that you’ve put so much time and effort adjusting to, only to bring you back into the familiar for such a short amount of time that c) homesickness may very likely ensue upon return to host country. Moreover, d) you may miss out on a unique abroad experience.
Thankfully, my parents paid for the tickets as a birthday present. It was really important to them that I made it home for my brother’s graduation – he not only became a dentist but a captain in the Air Force that week. With these opportunities for our family to be together becoming fewer and far between these days, I understood the value of this trip. Plus it helped that flying between Panama and the US is a pretty great deal, often cheaper than flying from the East Coast to California.
Unfortunately, two weeks before my scheduled departure I learned that IIE (Institute of International Education, the overseeing board for Fulbright) organized a last-minute seminar for the other Fulbrights in the region, which just so happened to overlap with my final days in the US. It was an all-expenses-paid trip to Lima, Peru, a chance to meet other Fulbrights, exchange ideas and techniques, and have a little vacation. I tried my hardest to make the best of both worlds; to have my cake and eat it too. But no dice. It was too late to get a refund or credit for my tickets, so I created a whole budget and proposal asking IIE to fly me from Philly to Lima, showing how they’d actually save money with that plan instead of having me fly from Panama… but as my dad explained it, the government doesn’t really take well to deviation from the norm. They don’t take well to complicated exceptions. Even though the Embassy approved my request, it didn’t make it passed IIE. Every decision has its tradeoffs; this was a big one for me. Just means I’ll have to make Lima one of the next vacations on the top of my list, I suppose.
All that being said, this trip was completely worth it for me.
It came at a great time for me. I had been in the country a full two months by this point and was starting to bump heads with a professor I worked with at UDELAS, and was also feeling stressed and confused about the vague perimeters of my Fulbright extra project (aside from teaching English). Whether to the US or anywhere – I needed some kind of escape for a few days.
I found it incredibly valuable because I was able to understand and internalize how much I appreciate certain people in my life, and got to spend rare quality time with my family.
It. Was. Perfect.
The best part about being at Wheaton was that I was somehow, magically, able to see everyone that I care/cared about at Wheaton (for the most part): The Wheatones, my hausemates, my close friends who graduated above me, my new close friends from my class year, my boyfriend – it was amazing! I was so happy to have these stolen moments (and a bit sad when they ended), but I’m glad to have been lucky enough to take advantage of that than to have never been there all. Ugh it was so wonderful. I genuinely felt happy – so happy I felt high – I don’t even know if I’ve felt that much overall joy before. Anyway, besides seeing my family and friends, I also got to play with my cat!!!
A strange pocket of normalcy in the midst of my grant, but a good one all the same. Yes, I’ll admit I was a little homesick on the plane back… but that’s the thing. I wasn’t homesick, rather people sick. I came to realize how much I truly cared for these people that I have in my life and understood just how fleeting those moments were that I shared with them. Never again will I likely be at Wheaton with all of the same people, those from grades above and below me that I truly care for. It will also be less likely that my family will be able to share much quality time together as time goes on. All of these realizations hit me like a full-speed train and I couldn’t help but to be taken over by emotion by how truly thankful and lucky I am for everything and everyone that I have in my life.
This realization also gave me the determination to keep my chin up and make the best of my grant while I’m here in Panama. As “they” say, life happens when you’re busy making other plans. 10 months really does fly by fast. I hope to take advantage of my time here so that I can make it a worthwhile experience for my students, the University and myself!
The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.