Part I: Idea and Reality
Going away starts with an idea. I want to get away. One gets restless staying in one place for too long. Food doesn't taste as good anymore; patterns of life start to become a drag. The Grass-is-Greener-syndrome starts to take a hold of you. I know this feeling. I've had it before. All my friends have always travelled a lot. I didn’t. Even though I wanted to, I didn’t do it. There was always a reason not to go. In 2008 I couldn't take it anymore. I went away. I lived in the Middle East for a year. Coming back, everything is put into perspective. The grass is greener here. Everything is familiar. The friends you meet have been your friends for a decade. They know you. Life is good and simple. But then the nagging feeling starts again. You wonder about the things on the other side again. You start fantasizing again. You want to go away again.
At some point, the idea becomes reality. I will go away. It's simple really: you just have to decide to do it. Fuelled by this decision you start to look at the necessary steps to take. And that is where the fun begins.
Because, of course, there is preparation. Preparation comes in many shapes and sizes. Making a plan. Finding a university. Being accepted. Finding money to make everything happen. Finding a place to live. Booking a ticket. A million other things.
The first step was easy. Where to go? Well, I needed to go to Australia. Leiden University has three partners there. I went for Sydney. Done. Next, I had to make a study plan. What courses should I take? What does Sydney have to offer? I decided to check the e-prospectus (known in Dutch of course as “studiegids”). This proved to be a lot less easy.
Last year I wrote a paper for LA 3. I compared English courses from different universities. I had to check e-prospectus from several universities. Anyone should be glad with the Leiden e-prospectus. I was surprised by the inaccessibility of these documents. Sydney was no exception. To find a department was doable. To find a comprehensive list of courses proved to be a lot harder. Ultimately, I found my way. I chose some courses. A course I’m particularly looking forward to is “Australian Stage&Screen”. No course like that is offered anywhere in the Netherlands as far as I’m aware. I have to miss some obligatory Leiden courses however. As a consequence, I’m taking Old Norse. I must admit that the sheer obscurity of this is very appealing.
Again, I had to turn ideas into reality. The administrative mill had to start running. I won’t bore any reader with the details. It suffices to say that there were 20 pages of paperwork for various institutions within Leiden University. Furthermore, I had to get one paper from the Royal Conservatoire, where I’d been a student. Again, anyone should be glad with Leiden University, study coordinators and Plexus. Trying to attain such a document from the Conservatoire is like going to a fair and trying to grab one of those bears with a metal hook. Just when you think it got out, it falls back in.
My next step was making contact. I know some people in Australia. I emailed them. They emailed back. A very interesting and completely unexpected thing happened. Their replies started to encroach upon my reality. I had a certain image of life in Sydney. Most important of all, I wanted a bike. I’ve lived abroad before. One of my big regrets from that period is my lack of having a bicycle. I find cycling provides one with the perfect speed at which experience an environment. A car is too fast. Walking is too slow. Furthermore, I had decided to become a bike messenger in Sydney. What better way to get to know a city?
My friend told me not to get a bike. Sydney drivers would be out to get me. They would drive me of the road. Sydney was a very hilly city. It was not made for cycling. At this point there was a reality clash. My friend knows the city. She would know what was good. But to conform to her view would change my reality. I decided to get a bike. Que sera, sera. I will let you know if it works out.
Another friend could get me a room. A good friend of his has a house. It was a great place, with trees growing through it. It had lots of free rooms. Why, I asked. I turned out this guy had kicked out all his tenants during a psychotic breakdown. The only guy living there now was an old Peruvian man. He had fought in the Peruvian Maoist army. The perfect roommate. Apparently he just sat in his room talking to himself in Spanish all day. I said I’d think about it. I still am. It sounds mental. Also adventurous though. And a great story. After all, yesterday’s hardship is tomorrow’s anecdote.
To be honest, this whole room idea has started to become part of my fantasy. I am seriously considering living there. I know it’s crazy. But that’s the thing about living abroad. You can re-invent your whole world. Once you take the initial step, why not take a few more? Being a bike messenger, living in some crazy tree-ridden house. I would never do these things Here. But There I would. And I will. Create maximum contrast. So that when I come back, I will be glad to be home again.
by Marten van der Meulen