When Phoebe Bridgers sang “Romanticise a quiet life…,” we’re pretty sure she was inspired by how Jemima perceived Michigan with her rose-tinted (and almost cinematic) glasses.
You go to Italy and see the Colosseum; you go to Egypt and see the Pyramids; you go to Michigan and see… Costco.
That’s how I usually interpret how people – mainly on the internet – perceive my study abroad program. That’s how life is, perceiving, entirely on things unseen. People often ask “Why…. Michigan?” but it is obviously an experience I hold dear to myself and I’ll give it a shot at explaining it to whoever is reading this.
People will say that I over-romanticized a big percentage of it and I am aware that I’m acknowledging the nuance of reality a lot less – but that is the reason why the memories that I made during my program still sit in the back of my mind, holding me warmly almost as if it’s a little cocoon.
As an only child who was not allowed to go anywhere alone even when it is as far as the ‘warung’ in front of the streets – August 2021 was my first time stepping foot in a new country where I am completely blind to a new chapter of life that also turns out to be a place I can call ‘home’ and a very important part in terms of my personal growth. A little earlier before that, I wrote a piece about ‘Moving’ and I hadn’t known that I would move. I have always been mesmerized by moving places or starting anew, if you will. There I wrote something that sticks with me until now: “The more you keep moving, the more you will see life working in your favour.” And little did I know I was silently putting everything into reality.
I did not expect much when I arrived at my dorm, West Wilson Hall at Michigan State. I was greeted with an unpleasant experience: mosquito bites all over my arms (the mosquitos in the summer are serious about biting people) and my room’s humidity. However, as days went by, my brain shifts into using Fahrenheit, the temperature went down, the sound of leaves crunching whenever I walk becomes peculiar and it didn’t take much time for me to feel at home in Michigan. East Lansing taught me many things and gave me many of my first times – even though it’s always the silly ones. It’s the trip to Meijer and Walmart, having the experience of being in the library past midnight, the undoubtedly confusing football game days, fat squirrels foraging everywhere, or simply walking through the bridge overlooking the Red Cedar River in the fall when the leaves start to turn orange. One of my favourite memories in the fall is when I was walking home after class, crossing the zebra cross – which Americans know as ‘crosswalk’ – to find a guy driving with the windows open, listening out loud to a jazz quartet song in the middle of the Autumn colour palette the town offered. The song – which I later found out through Shazam the song is called “East of The Sun and West of The Moon” by Ian Leigh Quartet. I never experienced such joy in enjoying jazz in the fall; suddenly it feels like I’ll be okay. There was just always something to look up to when I was there.
When winter was around the corner, I couldn’t keep holding the urge to open the weather app every hour – waiting for a sign for snow to fall and feeling giddy that my favourite holiday season is approaching. Hot chocolate, turning on the radio to listen to all-Christmas music, Christmas trees and decorations almost everywhere, and finally knowing what sledging is like. My last two months in Michigan made my cheeks hurt from a lot of smiling, even though the fat squirrels are rarely to be seen.
Perhaps my newfound love for Michigan and my semester is also rooted in how I recognize it as a piece of cinema within which I found a catharsis. It is a series of memories where I come to terms with my own struggle and a greater understanding of myself. It is a liminal distance between what I want and what I can have. Finding ways to navigate love and excitement, to gaze and desire, to enjoy the laughter and the sobs, and to hold someone’s face in my mind and try to remember where the freckles are deep in my memory. As the movie is ending and someone asks me again why…. Michigan? Well, even though it’s mundane as it sounds – I will always miss the view of a giant parking lot, surrounded by beige coloured buildings, watching Michigan sunsets, and I am happy with the fact that these images are actually what reminds me of my temporary home.
Created by: Jemima Angel Kabeline Panjaitan
Jemima is a 22-year-old undergraduate French Language and Literature student at Universitas Brawijaya. Her IISMA adventure took place at the Michingan State University back in 2021. She has participated in several student-run organizations and various activities during her study. She is passionate about cultural writing, fashion & beauty, literature, and community building. She enjoys reading and reviewing books, and films, journaling, listening and playlist-curating on Spotify.