You Can Leave Swat, but Swat Won’t Leave You

Last semester, my sophomore spring, I kind of messed up. Among drowning in my personal pit of sorrows, mental illness and body dysmorphia, I built huge barriers between all of my Swat friends and me. I convinced myself that going abroad would allow me to find myself without them, because I thought they were the problem. I convinced myself that Swarthmore itself and the people I had gotten to know there were the culprits for my mental instabilities and deep-rooted insecurities. So, to put it lightly, I done goofed.

I had spent two years listening to people tell me that Swarthmore was temporary — it was something that happened to you for four years and then it was over. Friends who had done a semester abroad swore that leaving allowed them to ignore Swarthmore as being an integral part of who they were, and they had never felt so free in their lives. So it was only logical that I was yearning to leave after the year that sophomore slump had gifted me. But I’ve come to find that you can run as far as you want from Swat, but Swat will never truly leave you. The friendships and memories you make there are invaluable and they should be judged as such, rather than replaceable and forgettable.

On July 14 of this year, I arrived in Brisbane with three luggages and a head full of dreams, but a sad, empty heart. I had been trying to rebuild myself and my life, my hopes and dreams, and I refused to accept anyone to whom I had attributed my downfall into those fantasies. I had already, even if hesitantly, let two Swatties in, and figured that was enough. They knew my story — they would understand and were really all I needed.

But deep inside, I ached. I yearned for the friends I had been blaming for months, because finally, I was admitting to myself that perhaps they weren’t the problem. Perhaps that was me all along. Never being one to admit defeat, I trudged on, ignoring the pangs my heart often felt when accidentally scrolling through pictures of more wholesome, fun times.

Being abroad is hard though. I was supposed to figure out my budget, my studies and my trips all while working through my emotional turmoil, which was one of the toughest journeys I’ve ever embarked upon. I wanted my friends back, all of them, to be able to tell them how I felt. I wanted to be able to call them and tell them how poorly my day was going and how much I needed their support in that moment.

I eventually admitted to myself that I could no longer blame innocent people for my own issues. I could no longer harbor anger or hatred towards people that had done nothing but try to lift me up during my worst moments. Perhaps, I needed that step back — perhaps I needed the fresh air to somewhat romanticize them, to be able to see through the smoke and mirrors my eating disorders and depression had crafted for me.

I reached out after months of no contact, holding my breath for every second that I got no reply. But my heart was at peace, even if my hands were shaking. I knew I was doing the right thing for once.

Since that first text, I continued my immersive journey of self-healing and self-improvement by trying to earn back the people I had always dearly loved. I knew the road would be tough, as it has been, and I knew it would require a lot of me, but I was also acutely aware of how deeply important it was. I also learned how wrong I was about being abroad.

When you leave Swat, a lot of people may try to convince you that part of you is gone. Well, perhaps not gone, but certainly stifled. They try to tell you that the people and memories you have from there are not going to remain as important as they once were because new friends have the ability to simply replace them. That, readers, is a lie. One way to explain it is the old quote, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

A different, and perhaps better way, to put it is by paraphrasing a part of a speech I heard during freshman orientation that has stuck with me all these years, “Swat does not only happen to you —  you happen to Swat.”

You do. And that is why it’s impossible to let go. That’s why my heart lives and loves Swat even with all the pain I have endured because of it. It has given me so many hard lessons, but it has also, more importantly, introduced me to some of the best people in the world. My crew, my dudes, my loves. They’re the ones that gave me the strength to face all my insecurities and issues. They’re the ones that, through thick and thin, inspire me to be better than I was yesterday, every single day. Just because I’m now half a world away doesn’t mean our connection is severed. I would even argue it’s stronger. There’s just something immensely more dramatic about a friend that has the ability to turn your day around through a simple Facebook message that reads, “I forgot to ask you how you are —- I don’t want you to think we forgot about you.” Or a group chat with a member in Copenhagen, another in Wisconsin and yet another in New York City, with hopes of a reunion stirring.

Being so far away, I’ve understood that Swarthmore has given me a family, one that I chose to walk away from and one that has lovingly welcomed me back with no hesitation. Swat has given me my people, a thing I can’t hope to find anywhere else.

I know college is hard and I know how easy it is to fall apart when things get tough and proceed to hate Swat for it, but this experience has shown me how backwards that thinking is. Truth is, I don’t hate Swat — I resent the difficult situations it makes me face. But I must recognize that every single one of those situations has also been accompanied by people who have become my family, no matter how far I travel from them. As ill-timed as this realization may have occurred, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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