The Not-So Lonely Planet: Janice to Jetlag: Adjusting to the USA

 

I kneeled on the hardwood floor of my room sobbing, looking at the cold body lying in front of me. She had been split into two halves, her dark-lined repository gutted and open; ready to be embalmed for our next life. Let’s talk about Janice. Janice caught my eye with her bargain price and offensively tacky appearance from the top shelf in Penneys. I wasn’t out of the shop a hot minute when I realised I had to trawl her monstrosity through town— Janice the suitcase seemed to be a mistake.

Filling Janice was the next order of business as I slowly but surely realised that I had a lot more baggage to carry across the Atlantic than 23kg could hold. I’d been warned that my clothes wouldn’t survive the snow-globing of the northern states come November, that my mannerisms would be two decades behind, and the only thing worth holding onto was my Irish accent. I have always been obsessed with America and her infomercial-like opportunities. It’s the land where southern drawls dampen the rising dry dust of both poles of Carolina and draws distance between the east and west. I’m bound North East, where accents are amber leaves that thaw the cold. I keep telling the folks back home I’m going to Stephen King country— Orono, Maine. It might just be one of the only places left where the original American Dream has enough space to spread its
wings.

Despite the postcard description of this New England fantasy, it’s hard to fill suitcases with home and even harder to fill them with loved ones (without being stopped at border control for concealing bodies). But I’m trying not to think about the negatives, which is a struggle. Organising this year abroad has been a willing isolation chamber both in the sense that, more often than not, you are on your own when it comes to organising visas and flights, but also physically. I’ve spent the summer trundling through emails and paperwork to ensure that every aspect of this trip that I can control is *perfect*. Any time my trip was brought up, people assured me the Atlantic distance would swallow my problems and I’d bounce back bolder and better. Jump to me hurtling through the air at 598 kilometres per hour, tears Niagara-falling down my cheeks, panicking about
connecting flights, a snoring roommate, potential Twinkie addiction (followed by diabetes) as every little insecurity whispers in my ear; I don’t think the ocean can hold all of your fears about this year. The Pine Tree State doesn’t disappoint as I swoop into Bangor Airport. She flashes her boastful forests and wide open highways that chase the banks of the Penobscot and Stillwater. A friendly group of international students greet me—- all of us equally nervous as we inhale this new world. They too circumnavigated the globe over the last 48 hours with baggage hanging from their eyes and smiles, as well as from their tired arms. Weary as we are, we are all here for the same reason, though, then, that reason was foggy.
It wasn’t until my third day, after getting mauled by mosquitoes the size of Skittles, rowing a ten-person Indian War Canoe at high speed through the Stillwater river, chasing a hawk that flew above us in the cerise-painted sky that I remembered why I came. The romantic adventure of it all. It was the American Dream that here you can be and do anything. Like Janice, America stands out while probably tipping the scales at the baggage check in. She is a little bit nuts (can confirm, having ran across an American Football Field screaming “Go Bears”). But America offers the chance to change your stars, or at least see them differently— much like a year abroad in general. And the thing about stars is, no matter where you are in the world, there is always another person staring and hoping that they aren’t the only lonely ones trying to find familiarity in the rearranged face of night.

Photo Credit: Alana Daly Mulligan