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The Summer of My Disquiet

By Joseph Nichols, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio

            Last June, I disembarked from an early morning Portuguese airplane.  Two hours and a trip through customs later, my feet hit the cobblestoned streets of Lisbon, Portugal.  Temporal and spatial regularities ceased to exist; the city seemed timeless, the air felt, oddly, both British and Spanish at the same time. 

            I had arrived. 

            Six months prior, I had arranged that arrival to precede my fellow graduate students by a day, maybe two at the most.  I wanted a chance to acquaint myself with the city; I wanted the opportunity to forget the states.  More than anything, I wanted a cheaper ticket. 

            I was not prepared for the true advantage of such an early arrival.  I was also not prepared for the atmospheric conditions that had left the rest of the Bluegrass Writers Studio lingering along the Eastern Seaboard 3000 miles to the west. 

            Somewhere between the close of morning and the bright afternoon light, my brain languishing in a sleep-deprived delirium, it occurred to me:  I had become the Other.

            I did not know a single person on the continent. 

            Beyond the few creature comforts on my back (a laptop, several outfits, a toothbrush), my American existence was, quite literally, an ocean away.

            A foreign familiarity settled across my shoulders, my senses. 

            This was Disquiet. 

            This was exactly the experience for which I had, unwittingly, bargained.

            I was terrified.  In other words, I was thrilled.

            There is a simplicity, an unquestionable beauty and freedom, in leaving what you have come to expect, what you have embraced as the normative qualities of your life.  Had my fellow students been at my side, already, I would have missed it.  Had I already fallen into my air-conditioned bed at the hostel, I would have missed it.  Had I allowed myself to linger, back home, among the shelters arranged to shield me from life’s vicissitudes (translate: the good stuff), I would have missed the distinction that a summer in Lisbon, Portugal had granted me:

            We must see things, always, as does the Other; we must look through eyes that sing with the unfamiliar. 

            You see, I had to be taken out of the box before I could realize there had ever been one.

            I had to learn that arriving early is a concept that goes beyond the feeding habits of birds or the stamping of passports.  Being the Other is a mindset, a perception, where eager eyes await the unexpected. 

            This is the value of the foreign residency. 

            This is Disquiet.

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Kristen Thompson

Published on February 04, 2014

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