Elana Johnson, author of the recently released Surrender, is hosting the “Never Surrender” blogfest event in honor of her book’s release. I just finished Surrender yesterday, so keep an eye out for my review sometime this weekend. Today we aren’t actually going to talk about the book, we’re going to focus on an assignment given by Elana to the blogging community.
Here’s the assignment, directly from Elana’s Blog: “All you have to do is blog about a time you didn’t surrender. Trained for a marathon? Queried agents? Had to study for an entrance exam? I’m looking for inspirational stories that you have experienced. Hard things you’ve accomplished because you didn’t give up. I want to be inspired by you!”
So, I thought long and hard about the topic, never surrender, and you know what?This is a really difficult topic. Because, honestly, I feel like I’ve ben pretty lucky in life and I haven’t had any difficult battles to fight, not had any major obstacles to overcome. I’m also pretty bad at sticking to promises I make myself. I keep promising myself that I will work out every day, or not eat candy, give up soda; then I find myself heading home instead of stopping at the gym, sneaking some chocolate and grabbing a soda from the fountain at work.
Needless to say, not surrendering is definitely not my forte. Lack of willpower? That I’ve got down to a science. But, here is my story of one time when I fought against the desire to give up, and how much of an impact it had on my life.
When I started college at 18 I packed my bags, loaded the car and drove all of 20 miles down the highway to my new dorm. I was mere miles from my childhood home and could hop on MARTA and make it from Midtown Atlanta to my suburban home town in less than half an hour. Needless to say, I hadn’t really “spread my wings” and flown too far away from my parents, let alone left the country.
That is, until my junior year rolled around. I’d signed up for an exchange program that had me planning to spend my entire junior year in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England! It was a fantastic opportunity and I was so grateful that my parents were willing to help me fund my dream of traveling across the pond. I was going with a group of ten other Georgia State students, none of whom I really knew.
So, I prepared for my trip. I renewed my passport and applied for my visa. Got all the required shots and other medical things. Packed up my entire room. Spent loads of time with my friends. Started and ended a summer fling. Read up on life in Newcastle (they are one of the top ten cities for nightlife in the country!). Unpacked my stuff and re-packed it in fewer bags.
Before I was really ready for it to happen, it was the morning of September 17th and I was off to the airport with one of the students who was joining me for the year. We would be together for the entire 12 hour trip despite never having more than a five-minute conversation
The travel time is a blur, there were hugs and kisses for my mom, dad and sister and then I was on the plane, listening to my mix cd (remember that time before iPods!) and trying not to cry as I stared out the window as I watched the US disappear below me. We landed at Heathrow and had to make our way across London to Gatwick in order to catch out connecting flight night to Newcastle. It was a whirlwind of money exchanging, traffic and proper british accents, but before I knew it I was standing in front of my dorm at Northumbria University.
There was a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach as I stood in the middle of my home for the next nine months: Lovaine Flats, Number 26, Room 6. The stark, cinderblock walls were bare and reminded me vaguely of my elementary school, but they felt more like a prison cell. I had to take a deep breath to prevent the tears from rolling down my face in front of the student guide who had helped me with my bags. In a haze I thanked him and watched him walk away, leaving me all alone in this cell.
I was terrified and was sure that I had made a horrible, horrible mistake. I wasn’t supposed to be here, 5,000 miles away from home, alone in a dorm room, missing my family. There was no way I was going to last the semester, let alone the year. But, I tried to swallow my fear and I ventured out to the city looking for dinner. I only made it a few blocks down the main street to town before I saw that bright, familiar KFC sign. I rushed in, already anxious for a taste of home however awful. I waited in line and when it came time to order, I could barely understand the kid behind the counter with his thick geordie accent. I mumbled my order, collected my food and found a table in the corner. I ate quickly and rushed back to the safety of my cell, barely noticing the beauty of the city around me.
As the days and weeks went on, I went to classes (sorta of), made friends with my flatmates (sort of), spent a lot of time with Amanda (a fellow GSU student) and tried to enjoy my time. Yet every night when I finally crawled into bed, I’d hug my stuffed bear and cry, feeling so lost and alone. I wished so hard that I was at home and eventually my wishes turned into thoughts of giving up and simply leaving Newcastle to return to Atlanta. I began to seriously plot my return home and seeing my friends and family again.
I tried to think of how to tell my parents that I wanted to come home, that I wasn’t cut out for studying abroad and that I couldn’t make it in this foreign city. I wondered if I’d be able to enroll in classes back home, or would I have to take the semester off and push graduation back even further?
Every day I’d get up and start to walk over to my advisors office to discuss the possibility of leaving. To ask him to fill out the paperwork and help me return home, to tell him I didn’t want to finish out the year. To tell him I was giving up, that I surrendered. One day I made it as far as the hallway outside his office before I turned around and walked right back down the stairs.
So, I started a game with myself. Every morning when I woke up I’d convince myself that I could make it through just one more day. And then one more day became one more week, and a week became a month. Before I knew it, it was November and I was returning to my flat from a weeklong trip to Dublin. I’d spent the night in the airport and struggled not to fall asleep on the metro back to the flats. I opened the door to my room and dropped my weekend bag on the floor, looked around at the walls covered in photos and I was filled with this overwhelming sense of being home, of being where I belonged
I’d pushed through my loneliness and hadn’t surrendered to my fear. I had made it and I was happy in Newcastle. I remember falling on the bed in peals of giddy, breathless laughter.
I never told my friends that year that I seriously thought about leaving, about quitting. How I wanted nothing more than to return to familiarity and security and to leave England far behind me. I know that they would have understood and they would have been there for me. But I was ashamed at having come so close to giving up.
If I’d left, If I’d surrendered, I don’t think i would be the person I am today. There were so many things that my year in England taught me (and not all of them were learned in the classroom) and so many new things I experienced. I wouldn’t have seen Europe, toured Anne Frank’s house, drank coffee by the Seine, gotten slapped in the face in Rome, marveled at the Colosseum or had huge beers at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich
I wouldn’t have met some of my closest friends, danced the night away in a Spanish bar, had a shaving cream fight in my flat in the middle of the night, learned how to play snooker (well, kinda), joined the drama club (that never even put on a play), or found a cute, french guy to date.
That trip helped define who I am as an adult. Without it, I wouldn’t have proven to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to. That I am, in fact, one tough cookie.
That I won’t surrender.