So it’s been a while, as usual, but I’ve found that I feel the most comfortable blogging when I feel like I have something pretty valuable to say. And this time I think I do.
One week ago, I returned home after three and a half months studying abroad in England. It was the experience of a lifetime, but there are no words to express how happy I am to be home with my family and friends. But instead of talking about the places I saw or the things I did (You really just have to see for yourself), I want to share some things I learned. After all, that is the whole point of this blog anyway. So here are a few things I learned while studying abroad:
1. Flexibility and structure are not mutually exclusive.
When I first arrived at the college where I would be studying in England, I was really concerned by the lack of routine I would have there; class schedules varied week to week depending on student trips. For the first couple weeks I wondered helplessly if I could handle that lack of structure. I’ve always loved routine–thrived on it, really– and up until this point, it had been essential to getting all of my work done on time. But the funny thing is, I didn’t have much control over the changing schedule, so once I learned to accept that, I was able to feel myself gain some flexibility. I learned to feel comfortable with not knowing exactly what is happening and when. It turns out, you can be flexible and organized at the same time, and it’s way less stressful to live that way.
2. If you go the wrong way, just turn around and try a different route.
It really is that simple. Without access to data or wifi, there were a lot of confused moments in cities I’d never been to before when someone asked, “Wait, are we going the right direction?” I used to be filled with panic when asking that question, but sometimes when you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll stumble upon a cool place you never planned to go.
3. Every place you go to has something different to offer.
I want to apply this to places near my hometown, too. Even the smallest of places can have spectacular sights, whimsical shops, or striking landmarks. A little research and wandering goes a long way.
4. With travel comes trial.
Despite the fancy Instagram photos that people post when they’re abroad, not everything is always sunshine and roses when you travel. Anything can go wrong, from sickness to lost belongings to nasty encounters on the street. Some days, you’re so tired and your body aches so much from walking that you just don’t know if you can get out of bed. Sometimes places don’t live up to your expectations. But these are all just part of the bargain that comes with travelling. No matter where you go, something is bound to go wrong, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it to begin with.
5. You can find common ground with just about any person you meet.
I studied abroad with just over 50 other students from my university, many of whom I never would have met or spoken to if it weren’t for studying abroad. Our group had such a wide variety of people– athletes, members of Greek organizations, artists, jokesters, you name it– and I feel as though I could have a decent conversation with every one of them. I used to be really hesitant to talk to people who I perceived as very different from me, but I’ve realized that no matter who I’m talking to, we can find something in common or at least something to talk about. Chances are, if you’re kind and throw in some humor, you’ll have a new friend, or at the very least, a pleasant conversation.
6. Gossip just really isn’t cool anymore.
I’m no saint, but this semester I really came to understand how hurtful gossip really is. When you’re living and going to class in the same building with only fifty or so people every day, word travels fast. The easiest and best way to go is to try to be kind to people’s faces and behind their backs. And this is something I have to work on every day. Because really, gossiping and spreading rumors doesn’t make anyone happy, and it only serves to ruin reputations–those of the people you talk about and your own.
7. Missing people is powerful.
This past semester, I missed people in a way I never had before. I’ve missed relatives who have died, experiences I once had, friends who I wasn’t with but could visit if I wanted to. I’ve never felt the ache of an ocean between me and the ones I love before. I missed my friends and family so much this semester that sometimes I could feel the ache in my chest, my body heavy. At the beginning, I was so homesick. I felt like I could never adjust to living in a new country, and I missed the familiarity of the U.S. and of my loved ones. But after a couple weeks, I started to really like it there, which made it just a little easier to cope with missing home. But the real beauty of missing people is that you feel how much you love each other. Because when someone tells you they miss you when you are thousands of miles away from them, you know that they mean it. Because you, too, feel how they feel. It is so sad but also so beautiful to know that someone out there has a hole in their life that only you can fill and vice versa. It’s hard to explain, but missing people this semester has made me cry as many tears of happiness as it has of sadness.
8. A sense of belonging is all you need to feel comfortable anywhere.
For the first time in a few years, I felt like I really belonged in a community. I felt that if any person in our group, including myself, hadn’t been there, our experience studying abroad wouldn’t have been the same. When you let your guard down and let people see you for who you are, all you can hope is that they accept you. And when they do, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. Feeling like I belonged made saying goodbye that much harder, but it also made my experience much more meaningful. It meant that I had a new home, one that I’ll carry with me from now on.
Have you traveled abroad? What did you learn from it? Where do you want to go next? Let me know in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading.