Back from abroad, and I’m exhausted. My face keeps breaking out from a combo of soot and sweat, and I’ve got these lingering headaches from a summer cold I keep insisting wasn’t COVID. My body feels like it traveled the world in a cargo plane. 

To be clear, by abroad I do mean New York City, and not even the kind of NYC summer spent in a roach–infested studio apartment or the homes of distant relatives with perpetually understocked pantries; no, I shared the cushy accommodations of my dad, stepmom, and their dog (who also happens to be the canine love of my life). But hey, at least it was Brooklyn. That’s, like, practically a different country.

But location doesn’t really hold much bearing on the abroad–ness of it all, if you ask me. To be “abroad” is a state of mind, a rarified plane of existence that’s all about freedom. Specifically, freedom from the permanence of your bad choices. Penn’s campus—any college campus, really—is a rumor mill, and part of that is a protective measure. How else are we to know which frats are creepy or racist and should be avoided like the plague?

This poses a problem, though, for those of us who want to sleep with someone and truly never have to worry about seeing them again; who want to be able to get blackout without appearing on somebody’s Instagram story or, god forbid, The Roundup (R.I.P.) the next morning. Abroad is that magical place where you can ratchet down your Rice Purity Index without letting it define you.

So, let’s take a tally. I’m not going to absolutely expose myself here, but there are a few details that are so juicy I just have to share them with all of you, like the man I hooked up with who, mere moments prior, was dressed in head–to–toe leopard print. And get this, he played in the backing band of the same drag queen as another guy I’d seen earlier in the summer. I can now definitively say that musicians love me.

Not to say this was some kind of ecstatic, Aquarian bacchanal. The good sex was … fine and the bad was bad in ways I’m not going to get into here, except to say thank you to my friends who helped me through it. The point is that it happened, and now I’m a different person because of it. One might say abroad changed me.

Of course, not everyone at Street spent the summer entangled in their personal slut eras. Most of my time went to an internship at The FADER (obligatory plug), while other writers and editors were busy with their own career advancement, traveling, or just spending quality time with their families across the U.S. and beyond. Shoutout especially to Norah Rami and Catherine Sorrentino for steering this ship in my stead.

Think of this issue as a journal of those most formative months. The stories span from union strikes in our Western Pennsylvania backyard to protests in Iran and thrift markets in Manila, but they all prove that abroad doesn’t really change you; it just gives you the space to change yourself.