Top three things I’ve learned while studying abroad
How to make the best out of being alone
I’ve always enjoyed being alone and have always felt comfortable in my own company. Being an only child I had to get used to playing by myself, making up my own dances, and being every member of the Barbie family, but I had never spent so much time alone until I started college.
Even as I started making friends in the first semester much of time was spent alone; walking, grocery shopping, laying around in the living room, and travelling, all by myself. Despite enjoying my own company, the amount of time I was spending solo was unfamiliar and uncomfortable for the first couple of months. There were hours on end in the afternoons where I had nobody to talk to and with the time difference my friends and family weren’t around to chat. Being left completely to my own devices, in a country and culture that were still very new to me, taught me a lot about myself.
About halfway into the first semester I travelled to London by myself for four days. Four days is a very long time to be alone and this proved challenging, but empowering. I succeeded in navigating the city using maps, intuition, and good old trial and error. I learned how to entertain myself, and to not care about looking like a fool while taking selfies at landmarks. My finest moment was getting asked for directions, I guess I looked like a local! But the hardest part by far was making decisions. I could never figure out what to do for a meal, or if I should to a particular museum, and whether I should take a cab or a bus. Even though I didn’t succeed at making decisions I was confident about, I still got to learn that that was an area I needed to work on.
Being alone can be really tough. Sometimes its painful to sit with your own thoughts, especially during times of homesickness, but having the skill of solitude is one of the most empowering thing to acquire. It’s important to remember to be patient with yourself, treat yourself as you would treat someone else because we are often our harshest critics. Take every hardship as a lesson, an opportunity to learn, instead of a time to beat yourself up. And most importantly enjoy your own company. Laugh at yourself alone in a room. Have a one-person dance party. Take a bite out a brick of cheese. Enjoy the alone time you have to learn about yourself, because it might not last forever.
The value of friends: new and old
As much as I loved my friends before I left I’ve come to appreciate our bonds even more. Being far away and having a five-hour time difference makes some relationships impossible to continue, and under those conditions some might wither away. Fortunately my friends have made the best effort to stay close. I want to cry every time they send a thoughtful package or a funny note. Fortunately social media makes it easy to stay in constant contact, but taking time out the day to talk on Skype or Facetime reminds me how lucky I am to have the friends I do!
Connecting with my friends from home is extra special because they understand sides of me I don’t get to express abroad, but making friends over here has been an amazing experience too. Because you are lonely when in a new place with no pre-existing friends or family the friends you do make become family. I have never been one to trust people immediately, but studying abroad has forced me to do that. I am so grateful for the friends I have made so far because they play so many roles.
From being friends when you need to have fun, to sisters when you need someone to listen, to a mom when you need a helping hand, the friends you make abroad are some of the strongest bonds and having those people have made Galway feel more like home.
That it’s okay to ask for help
Being alone doesn’t mean being destitute. I usually hate asking for help, but when I had roommate troubles or felt homesick I learned that most people are happy to listen or lend a helping hand. The hardest part is simply asking for it.
My biggest fear was that people would resent me for asking for something! In retrospect this was foolish because talking to people can only lead to good things! In November I didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving, so the day before I finally asked the other American girl in my class what she doing. She invited me over for a wonderful international Thanksgiving, and since then she’s become my best friend here.
Not only will asking for help, or inquiring about someone’s plans, make life easier in the short term, but you may also get a long term payoff and happiness!