Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Hola, me llamo Kara. Tengo novio. (Hello my name is Kara. I have a boyfriend.)

People ask me over and over again the same exact question, as if they all got together and decided to annoy me, “Oh my god, how was Spain?!” My answer is always honest and simple, “It had its ups and downs like everything else in life, but overall I really enjoyed the experience.” It really did and I really did, but people who know me a little better know that studying abroad for me was emotionally confusing. I never felt overtly burdened by culture shock, I adapted well to a new school and having all my instruction be in Spanish, I didn’t have troubles finding new friends, and I was not at all surprised to find that living with a host family infringed on my freedom a bit. All these things seemed straightforward. They were expected and my trip didn’t suffer much because of them.
What did cause my good time in Spain, and me, to suffer was the fact that I, like the brave soul I am, ventured to a new country for a four month stay with a boyfriend who would not be coming on my adventure with me. People warned me not to, they said it would be too hard, it would take away from my experience, that I would inevitably cheat on the poor guy. But their words fell on deaf ears, or at least determined ones, and I decided that the three short but amazing months I had been together with Greg were in and of themselves proof that he was worth straining my trip for and someone I wanted to be with when studying abroad came to its inevitable end. I had made my decision knowing it would be hard but not knowing for sure how well I could handle it.
Oh, I handled it. I was successful in letting Spanish men know that I had a boyfriend when they uttered the one thing they knew how to say in English to me, “You are so beautiful.” I wasn’t just Kara, the American girl from Arizona, I was always Kara, the American girl with a boyfriend back in Arizona. I felt that the more people who knew that little fact the better off I was in combating the temptation of cheating and of keeping the undesired men away.
It worked pretty well actually and I took comfort in knowing that some of my girlfriends had boyfriends back home too. We were like soldiers of love fighting side by side to win the war against temptation and helping each other keep our eyes on the goal: to still have our boyfriends at the end of four months. We counted down the days until our return to the U.S. and kept each other posted on new developments in our relationships. We consoled, we bitched, we assured each other that we could make it just four, three, two more months with out our boyfriends’ touches or kisses. We convinced one another that seeing blurry Skype images of their handsome faces was better than nothing. We were each other’s emotional rocks.
But something curious began to happen as months rolled by; our ranks depleted. My comrades were giving into the two month itch, they were forgetting how much their boyfriends meant to them, they were seeing hope for love in the eyes and arms of other men both American and foreign. One by one they fell and soon enough I was one of the last women standing, refusing to let myself believe that some smooth talking Spanish guy with a rattail would solve my loneliness and make me miss my boyfriend less (despite my host mom’s assurance that I would love dating a Spanish guy and that I should forget about the boy so far away).
In moments of weakness and under the influence of too much sangria I found myself desperate for affection, wanting so baaaaaad to feel my boyfriend again. Like those cartoons where two men are stranded on a desert island and the skinny one starts looking like a chicken drumstick to his starving beach-mate, I let myself consider a harmless kiss with a gal pal as a solution to my love-starvation. I admitted sheepishly to my boyfriend that I had considered this and his response was clear, “Please don’t kiss girls.” Of course he was right, what the H.E. double hockey sticks was I thinking?! I like men! One man to be exact. I decided I had to really put my game face on and get through the rest of my trip one way or the other without looking at my girlfriends like drumsticks.
Like all good self-convincers I needed a mantra and “I love my boyfriend” was it. I chanted it every time my mind wandered to thoughts, and surely I had such thoughts, of anyone other than Greg in any other way than platonically. I tried not to talk about and whine so much about missing Greg to my friends or host family. I distracted myself with weekend trips and nights out with the gals. I was desperate to go home but trying to enjoy the last weeks of my stay. I was relieved to say goodbye to Spain when the day finally came not so much because I didn’t enjoy my time there, but because I felt like I could finally stop being torn between wanting to enjoy myself and my new surroundings and wanting my boyfriend to be by my side.
I guess the moral of the story is that long distance relationships are definitely as hard as they say, but being faithfulness is not impossible, like my family members and coworkers seemed to think. I guess they underestimated just how much my boyfriend means to me or maybe they just didn’t understand. Maybe they were just using what they had always heard as a basis for their pessimism and certainly they were not wholly incorrect in predicting I would cheat. After all, most of my friends were unfaithful to their boyfriends and certainly I felt the temptation myself. Only one of my friends made it to the goodbye dinner with her relationship intact and unsoiled by infidelity and I was proud of her, and myself. We had made it! Needless to say many others had not. I guess their hearts just weren’t in it.
All I can say is that it was worth the torturous four months to see Greg at the airport when I arrived home. Being with him strained my trip more than anything else I encountered abroad, but looking back now I have the distance and the clarity to see just how much growth and fun I experienced while abroad, boyfriend or not. I do not regret staying with him and I don’t think he held me back in any real way. However, if I travel the world ever again, and I want to, I really hope I can take him with me, for sanity’s sake.

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