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September 23, 3014
Okay, so this is, like, my diary or whatever. I wasn’t going to keep one, because it’s sort of annoying to remember to do entries, but then I started thinking, When Derek and I are old, we’re going to look back at this time in our lives and be, like, “Wow,” so I decided I’m going to speak into my transcriber every night before I go to sleep, unless I’m, like, you know, really wasted.
     I guess I should start with the rocket launch. Derek came with me to the spaceport to say goodbye, which was really sweet of him, because he was halfway through a video game. And I was, like, “Long distance is going to be so hard, but I know we can make it work, because we’re fully invested and we love each other,” and he was, like, “Yeah.”
     The flight was awful. I had to put my phone away during liftoff, even though I was right in the middle of texting Derek. Eventually, the pilot said phones were okay, but by then we were in outer space, so when I took out my phone it kept floating around the cabin, which was, like, annoying. Eventually, I was able to finish texting Derek, but he didn’t text back, not even after I texted him again and also left him a voice mail and some holograms. And I started to freak out, because my semester abroad had just started and things were already weird between me and Derek.
     So then the pilot was, like, “If you go to the observation deck, you can see a view of Earth,” and I really wanted to go, because seeing Earth from space is supposed to be this, like, transformative experience or whatever. But there’s no cell reception on the observation deck, and so I couldn’t go, because I was still waiting for Derek to text me back. He never did.

September 27, 3014
Okay, so, things with Derek have been really weird, but before I get into it, I guess I should talk about the program or whatever. I’m doing my semester abroad on Saturn, which I know is, like, pretty random. I was going to do Mars, but everyone was doing Mars, and I didn’t want people to think, like, Oh, she’s only doing Mars because everyone’s doing Mars. So on the form I checked Saturn. Anyway, classes so far are pretty easy. It’s a lot of Saturn history, which is super boring, but there’s only two hours of lectures a day, and also the days here are two weeks long, so when you think about it, that’s really not so much class time. On the weekends there are optional tours you can do to see what life is like among the aliens (sorry, I mean natives). I really want to do the tours, because I’m interested in other cultures and, like, that’s one of the main reasons I’m doing a semester abroad, is to get perspective. But I haven’t had time because Derek has been so weird. Which brings me back to things with him. Okay, so, yesterday he finally sent me a hologram, but it was, like, only five seconds long and he did it at the dining hall, so there were, like, bits of people’s arms and trays in it. And I was, like, if you can’t take the time to go inside an orb and send me a private hologram, how is this ever going to work? But I didn’t actually say that to him because I didn’t want him to think I was being clingy or whatever. Anyway, I’ve decided I’m not even going to think about Derek for a while, because this is my semester abroad and it’s supposed to be about me.

September 29, 3014
Tomorrow we have our first quiz. It’s on the culture of the Narvians, who are our host tribe. I’m sort of nervous, because at Williams I get time and a half, and I’m worried that the teachers here won’t know that I get that. Also, the reading is really confusing. The Narvians don’t have any concept of “me” or “you” (they see their tribe as a “single living being”). It’s, like, really hard to keep track of all the names.
     Anyway, yesterday morning I sent Derek a text, to be, like, “I’m freaking out about the quiz,” and I figured he would just ignore it, as usual. But he wrote back right away, saying, “You’ll do fine,” and I was, like, oh my God, that’s so Derek. Just when I think he’s a total jerk, he’ll do something that’s freaking amazing and I’ll remember how much we love each other. In a way I think that this long-distance thing is a good test for us, because if we can get through it, it means we were really meant to be together.
     Anyway, I was so relieved that things with Derek were finally good again that I signed up for one of the optional culture trips. We went to Titan, which is, like, the biggest moon. It’s sort of cool, because it has all these underground rivers. But when I tried to text a picture to Derek, there was no reception. Like, none. So I complained to Narvia, who’s, like, the alien lady who runs the program. And I was, like, “I don’t want to be rude, but in the brochure it said there would be reception and I’m, like, trying to make long distance work with my boyfriend, Derek, and there’s no reception.” She tried to fix my phone by zapping it with her eyes, and it helped a little, but not really. And at this point I was sort of freaking out, because even though Derek can be a total jerk, I love him unconditionally, and I, like, for real want to have babies with him someday, and that’s, like, actually something I think about, and I don’t want it all to end just because of my stupid phone. So I was, like, “Narvia, what’s going on with the reception?” And she explained that a war had started that morning between the Narvians (her tribe) and the Gorgons (who live on some other moon). It’s complicated, but basically, when they have their battles or whatever, it screws up reception. So I was, like, “I know it’s not your fault or whatever, but I just want you to be aware that there isn’t reception.”

September 30, 3014
So the quiz went okay, but I think I screwed up the last part because I was having trouble concentrating. Narvia made us turn off our phones for the quiz, so the whole time all I could think about was Derek and whether or not he was trying to get through to me. Also, I was really, really hungry. That’s the one complaint I have about doing a semester abroad: I’m interested in other cultures, and that’s why I came to Saturn, to experience new things, but I’m sorry, the food here is ass. The Narvians don’t eat meat, because they believe everything has “a common soul,” and I respect that or whatever. But the fruits and vegetables here are totally weird. All they have in the cafeteria are these purple star-shaped thingies and these giant petals from different flowers. There’s one vending machine in the hallway that has Nutri-Grain bars and that’s what I’ve been living on this whole time. Also, there’s no beer, only XanXan, which is made out of flowers (like everything here). I’ve tried it, and it’s actually not horrible, but it makes you really hungover. I usually drink only on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and today’s Tuesday, but the quiz was so stressful and things with Derek are so weird that I think I’m going to make an exception.

October 1, 3014
Last night was the worst. I was doing XanXan shots alone in my room and watching American Idol MXIII on Hulu when I realized I’d forgotten to eat dinner. The thing is, though, you’re not supposed to leave your pod at night, because that’s when the Gorgons do their air strikes. I thought about waiting until morning to eat, but my stomach was, like, literally rumbling. And so eventually I was, like, forget it, I’m getting a Nutri-Grain bar. So I put on my suit and floated down the hall, but when I got to the vending machine, they were out of blueberry, which is the only kind I like, and all they had was strawberry, which tastes like straight ass. And this was just, like, the last straw. So I called Derek and he picked up, but he was acting really weird. And I heard voices in the background. And I was, like, “Are you at a party?” And he was, like, “No, I’m just hanging out with some people.” And I heard some girls laughing, and I was, like, “Are there girls there?” And he was, like, “There are a lot of people here.” And I was, like, “I thought you said it wasn’t a party.” And he was, like, “It’s not a party.”
      So Narvia came by and was, like, “You must stay within your pod. The Gorgons are attacking.”
      And I was, like, “Listen, I know this isn’t your fault, and I don’t want to be rude, but in the brochure it said there’d be nightlife and there isn’t any nightlife, like, at all.” And she apologized and said that the war had escalated, and that the Gorgons had started enslaving and torturing the Narvians, and because of her antennae or whatever, she could physically feel it when her fellow Narvians were being tortured, because that’s how her species has evolved. And I was, like, whoa, too much information, but of course I didn’t say that, because I didn’t want to be disrespectful of her culture. So anyway she made me go back inside my pod, but by that point Derek wasn’t picking up his phone.
      I would never admit this to anyone, but sometimes I wonder if Derek and I are even compatible. I mean, I love him with all my heart, and I know he loves me, even though he’s never, like, said the words or whatever. But the thing is, we have pretty different interests. For example, he’s really into full-immersion virtual-reality first-person-shooter games and I’m really into, like, relationships. That’s the whole reason why I’m majoring in communications — because I want to work for a nonprofit when I graduate and try to save the world. I know a lot of people would say that’s a crazy pipe dream and I should just give up, but I’m, like, you only live once and you have to seize the day. There’s this quote I saw once on my friend Karen’s yearbook page and I liked it so much that I put it on my yearbook page, even though I knew everyone would be, like, “You copied that from Karen,” but I was, like, who cares, I like the quote. It goes: “Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss you’ll end up among the stars.” When I first saw that, I was, like, oh my God, I’m going to freaking cry, because I freaking love that. I try to talk about this kind of stuff with Derek, but it never works, because he doesn’t like to have deep conversations. All he wants to do is play his video games and break his kill records, which are, like, really high, but so what? I’m trying to decide now whether to text him goodnight. I kind of want to, because I miss him like crazy, but also part of me is, like, he doesn’t deserve it, because I’ve sent him good-night texts for nine straight days and he hasn’t written me back once. I don’t want to play games, though, because I don’t believe in them, so I’ll probably just text him what I always text him, which is “Good night, XO, I love you.”

October 10, 3014
Derek broke up with me. That’s why I haven’t been recording new entries, because it happened eight days ago, and since then I’ve just been crying.
      I was taking a quiz when he called me up out of the blue. You’re not supposed to use your phone in class, but Narvia was distracted, because there was some big Gorgon battle going on, and her eyes were rolled back in her head, so I was able to sneak out and take the call.
      So the first thing Derek says is, “I want to talk to you about something,” and my heart immediately starts pounding, because he never wants to talk about anything. So I’m, like, “What’s up?” You know, trying to sound casual. And he’s, like, “I think we should do an open relationship.” And so I’m, like, “Where is this coming from?” And he’s, like, “I don’t think long distance is working.” And so by this point I’m starting to get mad, because it’s not my fault long distance isn’t working, it’s his for not making an effort. So I blurt out, “If you’re going to be weird like this, what’s the point of even dating, why not just break up?” and he says “Fine” and hangs up. And I’m, like, Did what I think just happened actually just happen? So I call him and text him and leave a voice mail and a hologram and I even send him a telepathic message, even though they’re expensive and my plan doesn’t cover them if I’m roaming, but Derek never responds. And finally I realize, Oh my God, it’s over. Derek Kleinbaum and I are no longer a couple.
      So for the next eight days, I don’t leave my pod, not even to go to class, and eventually Narvia knocks on my door and I’m, like, great, just what I need right now. So I let her in and I expect her to lecture me about schoolwork or whatever, but instead she says, “Please pack your bags. The rocket leaves in one hour.” And I’m, like, “What?” And she’s, like, “Have you been listening to the bulletins?” And I’m, like, “No, Derek broke up with me.” And so she explains that the Gorgons won the war by rounding up all the Narvians and destroying them with a heat blast. And I’m confused, because she’s a Narvian but she’s still alive, and she explains that she survived because the lasers couldn’t permeate the school, but all of her friends and family died. And I’m, like, “Oh my God,” because that’s freaking horrible. And I start to feel really bad, because all this time I thought we had nothing in common, but now that she’s lost her tribe and I’ve lost Derek, and both of our worlds have come crashing down, I realize we’re, like, exactly the same person.
      So I’m, like, “I think it’s time for some XanXan,” and she waves her antennae like she doesn’t want any, but I just ignore her and pour out two huge shots. And we start downing shots, like, one after the other, and I’m, like, “I know what will get our minds off things. Let’s play ‘Never Have I Ever’!” She doesn’t know how to play, so I explain the rules and say, “You go first.” And she’s, like, “Never have I ever seen so great a genocide as the one the Gorgons inflicted on my people.” And I want to be, like, No, you’re supposed to say fun stuff, but I don’t want to make her feel bad, so I just nod and take a sip.
      We finish the bottle and I get on the rocket, and that’s where I am now, just riding back home through space. And the pilot just said, “If you go to the observation deck, you can see a view of Earth.” And I didn’t look the last time, but this time I kind of want to look, because who knows when I’ll get another chance? So I guess this is the end of my diary, because phones don’t work up there. So I guess I’m just going to turn this phone off and go up there. Okay. This is it. I’m doing it. I’m turning this off. I’m going up there.

© Simon Rich

This electronic version of ‘Semester Abroad” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the publisher and the author. It appears in Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich, published by Serpent’s Tail, 2014.  Book ordering available through and
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Author Bio
Simon RichSimon Rich (U.S.) is the author of  The Last Girlfriend on Earth, What in God’s Name, Ant Farm, Free-Range Chickens, and Elliot Allagash. His latest book is Spoiled Brats, Serpent’s Tail, 2014. His work has been published in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and The Believer, and he was nominated for the Thurber Prize.  Until recently, he was a staff writer at Saturday Night Live.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York.