Three hours and 36 minutes.
Three hours and 36 minutes, that is, with no traffic, no stops for gas and no wrong turns.
That’s the amount of time it takes for me to drive from my home in New York to campus, or at least that’s what the GPS tells me.
When I first brought my car to campus at the beginning of my sophomore year, this drive seemed infinitely long and daunting.
I remember driving down I-95 during the last week of August, with my car fully packed with dorm supplies (and with my parents driving in the car behind me, graciously carrying my remaining necessities to help me move in). I remember feeling a little bit nervous driving in my car alone, but I distracted myself with the excitement of going back to school.
Reflecting on this a year later, the drive down to campus now feels like second nature. What was once an intimidating trip across lengthy highways and bridges has now become a route with so much familiarity.
This past August, I drove down to campus again. But this time, the feeling was bittersweet. I wasn’t moving into my junior year of college, despite it feeling like it.
Instead, I was driving down to Baltimore for a dentist appointment, one that I needed to attend before leaving the country to study abroad for four months. This semester, I’m studying in Sevilla, Spain, and I’m taking university classes in Spanish to complete my Romance Languages major.
Since I knew I wouldn’t be at Hopkins this fall, I used this visit to my dentist in Baltimore as an opportunity to come back to campus, even if it was only for 24 hours.
When I got to campus after not being there the whole summer, it felt like I had never left. I walked on the Beach, sat in Brody Learning Commons, went to the Recreation (Rec) Center and retraced all of my steps from the school year, a feeling that felt so familiar yet so distant. It didn’t feel like I would be leaving for the upcoming semester. It just didn’t feel right.
I was instantly struck with “FOMO.” I was scared of missing out on new memories and important celebrations with friends. I began questioning my decision to study abroad, which had been a decision I had meticulously planned out for months.
I saw freshmen taking orientation week pictures, and I thought back to how my freshman fall semester had been on Zoom. How could I give up a fall semester on campus after already losing one due to the pandemic?
Looking back, I know that all my thinking was illogical and that my brain was jumping into a fight-or-flight response as a way to cope with my fear of the unknown. I was just days away from leaving the country for the rest of 2022, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was scared to step outside of my comfort zone, especially when this new experience was less of a step and more of a leap.
Nevertheless, now, after being abroad for a few weeks, I can safely say I’m glad I took the leap. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture, take classes in a non-native language and grow in an environment I am not accustomed to. Changes scares me, but I am excited to see where this semester takes me.
While leaving home and saying bye to my family is always difficult at the end of the summer, something that’s been really comforting is knowing that I still have my community of friends at Hopkins when I arrive back on campus. Although I am far away from both my family at home and my friends at school, I feel grateful to be connected virtually with such a strong support system.
It’s a beautiful thing, having a community that makes it so difficult to say goodbye. But it’s not really a goodbye; it’s more of a see you later. I’m excited to see where this semester takes me, and I know that when the time comes, I’ll be driving down I-95 to Baltimore once again, excited to see my friends and to tell them about my semester.
Gabriel Lesser is a junior from Westchester, N.Y. studying Neuroscience and Romance Languages. His column explores his memories along with his current reflections and the lessons that he has learned.