It’s Been a Year Since I Went Abroad – Here’s What I Learned

A year ago I was in London studying abroad for a semester. If you haven’t been abroad yet, you might be thinking to yourself, "It’s been a year babe, why are you still talking about it?” On the contrary, if you have been abroad, or know anyone that has, you understand that it’s not a surprise I’m still going on about it. I know it seems crazy to think that one semester can do that much to change a person. Yet, my experience abroad absolutely transformed me, and only now, a year later, can I truly see how much.

My experience abroad was typical in many ways – I spent way too much money, I romanticized my awful commute, and I convinced myself I was picking up the British slang. I felt like the main character, and I had so much fun. But it was also a little bit different, as in ended-early-because-of-a-global-pandemic kinda different.

The experience I had was affected so much by the stress and uncertainty of COVID that it was honestly difficult to process much of my time as it was happening. That’s why watching it over Snapchat and Instagram memories a year later has been an illuminating experience. It’s allowed me to reflect on the process and draw real retrospective lessons from my journey.

three silhouettes in the middle of the road Photo by Karina Lago from Unsplash My first big takeaway is that abroad, like most experiences, is about the little moments way more than the big ones. Going to see the Eiffel Tower was amazing, and a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl. However, it was the videos of my roommates being silly in our shared quad, the cute lunch place I discovered on my work break, and my best friend and I buying late-night snacks, that meant the most to me. I also realize how much my abroad experience would have lacked if it wasn’t for the people I was with, especially when things got more and more intense at the end.

I also learned that I’m capable of so much more than I ever thought I was. Going abroad was scary to me for a lot of reasons. Flying, new places, and being without my family all spike my nerves. Not to mention the fact that I’m a naturally anxious person. Yet, now that the stress has worn off from my thrilling adventure, and my hands have stopped shaking, I realize how much strength I showed throughout the experience. While all the chaos was happening, I survived off of my own determination and adrenaline. Reflecting on what I went through now, I realize that I showed myself how strong I am. I know that I can draw on that knowledge as I move forward in my life. I - a person who is scared of decision making, scared of airplanes, and scared of growing up - booked myself a ticket home, got on the airplane, and flew by myself back to New York as COVID reared its ugly head. I did all of that - ME! - and I made it back in one piece. That’s a huge accomplishment to me, and it’s an example of what I will be capable of in the future. 

city buildings film photography Photo by Annie Spratt from Unsplash Most importantly, I realized that the lesson you expect to learn is not always the one you will learn - but you always learn what you need to. The experience I thought I'd have was one of macarons in Paris, handbag shopping in Italy, and sightseeing in London. I experienced some of that glamour, but a lot of my plans were not able to come to fruition. Even though that is a disappointing truth, the lessons I needed to learn would not have been earned through Pinterest-perfect romps through Europe. The ones I really needed were those I mentioned, and even a few more. I needed to remember to appreciate the opportunities I’m given, even if they aren’t perfect. I needed to be more grateful for the people I shared experiences with. I learned about living in the moment, because the next moment is never guaranteed. Most importantly, I needed to learn that I am so much more capable than I thought, and I am so much more than my anxieties and fears. 

Even though it hurts to see myself a year ago, mask-free wandering the Louvre, devouring the best fish and chips, or working an internship I fought for, those are beautiful memories I feel lucky to have now. I know I can return to Europe, and I plan to - trust me! I also know the combination of things that I went through were unique, and they were a combination of things I needed. So, as I write this, a year later, I am still so grateful for my time abroad. I also have absolutely no plans to stop talking about my experience anytime soon… Sorry!

So, if you ever hear me say the classic line, “abroad seriously changed my life,” just know that I really, truly mean it.

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