This last week of Study Abroad Madagascar Fall 2017 was unlike the rest of them. Most of our time wasn’t spent in the forest or traveling it was dominated by independent study projects, preparing for our end-of-semester presentations at the University of Fianarantsoa (Fianar), packing and saying goodbye. For many of us the beginning of the week started in wildly different places. Some of the students were out in the rainforest tracking lemurs, frogs, mammals, birds and the elusive Ravenala madagascariensis. Some students were spending long hours in the laboratories studying the intricacies of ancient hippo bones and modern gut bacteria. Others, like myself, were spending their days migrating from couch to couch on our floor’s lounge sorting through data and calculating statistical significance. But by Thursday night we were all back on the same page: preparing our slideshows for Friday’s rehearsal and Saturday’s presentation.
I think that Saturday was difficult for all of us. We began the day with the hour-long bus ride to Fianar, nervously anticipating presenting our independent projects to more than a few notable audience members.
Among those in attendance were Stony Brook University’s own Distinguished Professor, Dr. Patricia Wright, our instructors and TAs Tharcisse, Franck and Alicia, all of the CVB senior staff and many other CVB staff members, the Vice-President and the Deans of Science and literature Faculties of the University of Fianaratsoa and unbenounced to us, multiple members of Madagascar’s various ministries. On top of all of those notable individuals, a few hundred university students made their way in to watch us speak (for a few it was required).
After being opened for by a speech from of the university’s vice presidents we began, one by one announcing our names, our topics and stumbling over our words trying to explain our projects, motivations, data, graphs, results, discussions and future research directions in eight minutes or less. Honestly, I think that everyone was spectacular. Although I understand why some people may not think that they were so great. I was so nervous about my presentation that once I got to the front and saw a production grade camera trained right on me I pretty much blacked out and don’t remember anything until I sat back down in my chair but everyone assures me that I did well.
As tense as that all sounds, it isn’t what made Saturday so difficult for us. We all knew that it was one of our last days together but for many of us it hadn’t quite set in yet. That is until after our presentations and a long round of questions about them our instructors stood up and began to announce our graduation ceremony.
Time seemed to slow down for me as I watched Tharcisse hand out Stony Brook banners to those students who were standing close to him with the instructions to hold them up for pictures. I was almost too stunned to move when I heard my name called out, directing me to make my way to the front and shake hands with Tharcisse, Dr. Wright, Benjamin, the Vice-President of the University of Fianar and Franck and to receive my diploma. All of a sudden the end of the semester was real.
Along with our diplomas we each received a shirt that reads “Study Abroad 2017” that features a different animal that we have had the privilege of seeing during our stay. And with each shirt we also received an unsettling feeling that it was time to start saying goodbye. The following celebratory lunch was one filled with awkward silences embarrassed tears. Nobody would be without each other for at least another day or two but it was as if the graduation ceremony broke some universally agreed upon but completely unspoken rule that we weren’t supposed to talk about the end.
Of course, people spoke about which foods they were going to eat when they got home since week two (maybe even Maromizaha) but we never discussed what leaving each other would mean. Lunch culminated with dozens if not hundreds of photographs that we needed to take to solidify in our hearts that even though over the next couple of months we wouldn’t have each other as roommates and classmates, the memories would remain solid in our hearts. But nevertheless it was the beginning of the end.
Sunday was completely filled with packing, last minute to-dos like visiting the rainforest or town one last time, and goodbyes.
Sitting on the couch at 11:30 p.m. with the head of a dear friend who swore that she wouldn’t fall asleep snoozing away in my lap I remember thinking about how the last night had to be the hardest. Oh how wrong I was. Unlike most of my peers I haven’t left CVB. I’m still right here where we’ve been this whole time. I stood on the side of the road as everyone loaded the bus with their luggage and then hopped in and drove away, but really that wasn’t so bad. The hardest part has been waking up each morning and not seeing everyone’s faces at breakfast (or after breakfast for those who preferred sleeping late), the emptiness of the lounge and the lack of movie nights. There were many times throughout the trip that I felt homesick and this is no different. I am feeling sick missing the the time that we spent together. I am feeling sick missing my family. I can’t wait to see you all again. Enjoy your Thanksgivings with your relatives, sleep well and eat even better, enjoy the comforts of life at home. But keep in mind: home is where the heart is and I don’t want to speak for all of you but my heart is at CVB.