December 8, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 43°F

ColumnsThe Jetsetters

‘Open when’ notes bring memories of home abroad

I had just come in from shoveling the 3 feet of snow that Mother Nature decided to sprinkle over Maine in a beautiful blizzard. After laying out my woolen mittens and mother’s green snowsuit — which apparently was all the rage “back then” — in front of the fire, I hunkered down on the couch to review my pre-departure info for my upcoming four-month stay in Jaipur, India. Instructions of where and when to meet the group, what to pack, what to read and how to approach the spices of Indian food were endless.

While reading, pangs of excitement hit me, accompanied by nervousness and giddy anticipation. With plans to arrive in India on Feb. 2 to study sustainable development and social change with 23 other eager minds, it was hard not to feel immense amounts of overwhelming emotions.

Just as those indefinable feelings were about to boil over, my beautiful mother came home, package in hand. According to the return address, it had traveled across the country from California to Maine and was addressed to me. The FedEx box was soon shredded and tossed aside to reveal an old, beat-up National Geographic photo album.

There was a note in the front cover that read, “open when you get this.” It was an eloquent letter from a friend of mine, explaining the gift in my hands: While she was off wandering Europe last year, a friend of hers talked about a series of “open when” notes she got from her friends back home to carry with her throughout her travels. Each note was dedicated to a different occasion. I now had my very own “open when” photo album full of handwritten notes from a bunch of my favorite people.

Leaving such a strong support system at home fosters conflicting emotions. It makes leaving incredibly hard, and yet it also fuels my fire to go. While new experiences are to be had during my time abroad, I find contentment in knowing that there is a place in this wild world that I can return to, where so much love exists. There’s a chance the new language, strict expectations of female wardrobe, commuting by rickshaw and traveling between urban and drastically rural areas will have absolutely no effect on me, but those chances are slim. Now, when bits of homesickness inevitably enter my soul, I can simply read a note and focus on the beauty of my “open when” photo album and let the uncertainties of India sit still for a bit.

As a wanderlust-filled girl, I have expectations of adventurous grandeur, chasing curiosity and newfound understandings for my time spent in India. In a strange way, it feels selfish to be leaving so many people I deeply treasure, but it’s these very people that inspire me and infuse me with the confidence to discover the nuances of a place unknown to me.

Here’s to having people in my life that push me out of that silly little place known as a comfort zone, that spend the time crafting an incredible photo album of love and know that even when I’m absorbed in all India has to offer, I’ll still need an “open when you miss home” envelope every once in a while.