By Steven Schwab
Endings are weird.
First of all, endings never actually happen. There is always something that comes after a supposed ending: credits, applause, maybe hesitation and questions. There too is that good old cliche, “When one door closes, another one opens.” This leads us to easily extrapolate that when one ending occurs a beginning does as well. An ending brings the close of something but the opening of something else. So, to that effect, an ending is a beginning? An ending isn’t really an ending? Endings don’t exist? I’m confused.
Endings are confusing.
In a good book, a rewarding plot will finish, thereby opening the floodgate for a billion other questions. A good movie will leave the audience applauding, dumbstruck at a giant screen, sometimes clapping even though it is fruitless as the actors will never hear you (sorry, that’s a pet peeve of mine!) as well as likely begging for a sequel. In a play, the shutting curtain elicits deserving, rightful applause as the cast soon rushes out to be honored. These endings we, for the the most part, love! We have resolution, hope for more to come, and we are genuinely grateful to have had the chance to experience what we did experience.
Endings are good.
Then why do we dread the end of things like adventures, experiences, and bridge years? Being at home when the majority of my peers remained abroad snap chatting away their daily lives and sometimes counting down their days provided me with some time to reflect on when a bridge year ends.
First, I think it is important to consider when a bridge year begins. It’ll help give some context and provide some structure to figure out when it ends. Some may attest that it begins when you arrive “in-country,” in your new home, raring and ready to jump into the months ahead. Maybe it started when we finally arrived on campus after months of waiting and the reality of our new adventures finally settled in. But, I’d say no. It started when we made that decision to go away for a year and the logistics fell into place that we were going on this extraordinary little adventure.
So, beginnings come before endings. Yes. Very true.
So now that we know when it started; of course the question returns: when does it end? Most would say when you return home and break the immersion, stop the volunteering, and finish exploring your new but now old home. You return to the normalcy that maybe you were once trying to escape. You embrace the life you used to have at least in some way, ease into old routines, and start to put your year behind you so that you can put those newly discovered and/or honed skills to the test.
But, having been “home” for over two months now (incredibly shocking to even write that down) I can say that my bridge year is certainly not over. (Of course, it isn’t over because I chose to continue the program albeit my change of scenery.)
The point is that bridge years don’t end when you return home.
A bridge year is a lot more than just a collection of experiences in a place far away from home where (for us Tufts Fellows) we have learned and/or honed different languages, maybe lived with a host family, and volunteered at a local organization. It is true that it should feel like the bridge year journey is ending or has already ended. That is because part of it has. For some of us, (Brazil Fellows) we are no longer in country, working at a local organization, speaking Portuguese all the time, or living with a host family. But, that does not mean that the journey is over or that the year is done. No. Not at all.
Bridge years continue when you return home.
Those returning from a bridge year can attest that you transform into a different person. It is likely that you were in fact a different person as you worked abroad (In my experience speaking a different language has the effect of changing who you are, at least changing the expression of who you are) . In Portuguese, I found it very difficult to be the “me” that I know I am and experience everyday at home. You don’t have the proper language mastery to completely show who you are and, because you are in a (likely) completely different context, you aren’t going to be exactly who you were at home. But, when you return home, you don’t automatically revert into the person that you were! That is not how “growing” works! You will discover how much your experiences “abroad” affected you and how you are now another completely different person (a composite of who you were abroad and who you were at home). You are a new-and-improved version and it’s great to be able to experience yourself be that new-and-improved self (You probably won’t notice it right off the bat and might not for a little bit until you have more experiences that draw that version out of you).
So, bridge years continue at home because you can’t help but bring all of your experiences, revelations, and changes home with you. You might not be able to physically bring a part of the country back with you, but regardless, pieces of that country will return with you in ways you realize and ways you don’t.
So, is this to say that bridge years don’t have an ending? I don’t know. Like I said, endings are confusing and weird. That being said though, you have some power to determine whether or not it has ended and, to that effect, what parts have ended. You can flip that proverbial page in your diary of life and start a new chapter. I know that I am anxious to do that soon! It is cathartic and I am so very excited to continue and see what the next few months and four years hold for me.