Lessons a Twenty-Something Learned Abroad

I’ve always thought of myself as an adventurous person. When I was a kid, I loved taking trips with my parents, grandparents, school, etc. Any chance I got to go somewhere, I had my bags packed and ticket bought. I wouldn’t sleep in anticipation of the road trips I’d take with my grandparents, who made their living as professional road antiquers. In high school, I couldn’t wait to sign up for a home stay trip to Tamale, Ghana where I enthusiastically attended the Tissec school with Ghanaian students. It’s not that I didn’t like Kentucky, my home state, but I took every opportunity to get out and about because frankly, it didn’t feel like home.

Then I started school in what I believe to be the most amazing college city in the entire world, Boston. No place in my life has ever felt as much like home as Boston University. Everyone always tells me that there are few people as excited to go to school here as I am. I’m in love with this place. To me, walking into the crowded GSU feels like a warm hug and the familiarity of the bright halls of COM puts a smile on my face. BU gave me the first place worth missing, and leaving even to go back for the holidays felt a little more bitter than sweet.

I stayed in Boston through the summer after my freshman year and took classes. It had made me feel accomplished and gave me an excuse to continue in my favorite place, but when the second summer rolled around, I thought about maybe doing something different. I wasn’t too sure about my decision so I applied in secret. I didn’t tell a soul that I had put my name down on the line to spend my summer abroad in London until a few days before I got my answer. I finally told my family and awaited the response. Yes. I’d be buying my ticket to the UK.

I was more than excited to be going on the trip and I couldn’t wait to experience things like the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, and high tea, but something inside me felt uneasy and I really couldn’t put my finger on why that was. I had always been so enthusiastic to go somewhere other than where I was, but this time something had changed. Boston had given me the first home worth truly missing.

Regardless I packed up my life into a large suitcase and a carry on that had to make it three months in a foreign country. I purchased a sinfully expensive plane ticket, filled my pockets with Pound Sterling, and hopped across the pond to my new life as a Londoner.

I won’t tell you every detail of my time there, because that’s not really the point I want to get across, but I will tell you that London was one of the most intense and conflicting experiences of my life. Having not known anyone on the trip, I was forced to feel like a freshman all over again, taking names, majors, and details and starting from scratch with everyone I met. I felt like more of myself and less of myself all at once. From someone who has changed enormously since the first day of their freshman year, it was nice to meet a group that didn’t know the old me, but at the same time, I felt like no one really knew the same person that I felt like I was. Nothing really felt familiar. And before you ask, yes it was awesome to be 19-years-old and able to drink, but I missed the strange, unpredictable city that I was used to. Every morning that I got on the tube (even though it’s super clean), I missed the screeching Green Line rolling down Comm Ave. Every time I went into Sainsbury’s to get my groceries, I remembered the way that Star Market’s escalators in the back are always broken. And every time I drank a pint, I missed Dunkin in the morning before class with my friends. It felt like I was in two places at once and I couldn’t really be in either.

Despite all of this, I had some amazing experiences abroad, ones that I’ll never regret and ones that looking back, will make me into the person that I’m still becoming. But I’m here now to share just a couple of the most important things that I learned abroad, by myself, in the land of double-decker buses and Earl Grey tea:

  1. The most important shoe for a true traveling woman, despite what you may believe, is not those adorable ankle booties that rub your heel “but not that bad”. It’s sneakers. I promise. And if you don’t believe me, you will when you can’t catch a single bus home, you don’t have international so you can’t call a cab, and you have to walk home from Trafalgar Square. You’ll wish you could throw those booties in the rubbish bin and slip on a surprisingly sexy pair of Nikes.

  2. It is 350% okay that you might not be able to fit in a pair of tight pants that you came in. You might even have to buy a size of stretchy jeans in a size up, that’s alright too. Eat the scone, engulf the crepe, and knock that second pint back, because you won’t have it when you come home and you’ll regret not eating it more than you’ll regret the extra calories.

  3. It’s alright to go to the museum, see the park, or go exploring by yourself (within reason). Sometimes you don’t make a million new friends right off the bat and you still really want to go see that awesome band play in Camden. That’s fine. Get dressed up, just for you. Tell someone where you’re going to be, just in case, and go. Don’t be afraid of people thinking that you’re alone. Never limit the amount you enjoy yourself by only doing what the other people in your program want to do.
  4. Don’t be afraid to say that you’re homesick. Keeping the fact that you miss your own bed and you’re tired of sleeping on top bunk with sheets given to you by BU a secret isn’t going to help you get over it. And chances are that you can bond with someone who is feeling the same way. It’s okay to say you’re ready to come home and you’re not weird if you cry while Skyping your best friend because having something to miss is really important too.

  5. Don’t let cultural differences, accents, likes, dislikes, new crushes, financial differences, or anything else ever be a reason that someone treats you badly. You shouldn’t and don’t have to accept being treated with any less respect than you give anyone else and no one deserves to be in your life that doesn’t want to be there.

  6. It’s totally fine if you’re not interested in the Tower of London, or the National Gallery. It’s okay to not really care about a history museum or care about seeing a particular thing. You don’t have to like it just because you feel like you should. You only have a certain amount of time wherever you are and you should spend it doing the thing that makes you, you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t see any of those things—you should give everything a try, but don’t bore yourself because your Aunt or Professor told you that you “just can’t miss this one thing”.

  7. You. Don’t. Need. To. Fall. In. Love. Abroad. Despite what the Lizzie McGuire Movie, Nicholas Sparks, and Eat. Pray. Love. will tell you, you really don’t need to find love abroad. In fact, it’s probably better that you don’t. Sure, it might seem really cool to use Tinder internationally, but you might regret skipping out on the sights to see the inside of some dude’s apartment. Spend the time falling head-over-heels in love with yourself and who knows, you might accidentally meet the British accent of your dreams.

  8. You don’t live in an action movie and it’s okay to have a Netflix night in. Don’t ever beat yourself up because every moment of your life isn’t Hollywood worthy. Life doesn’t need to be constantly exciting, even abroad, and it’s okay to rest up. When you look back, you’ll have plenty of exciting adventures, nights at the club, and bottles of Pinot Noir. Take a night to paint your nails, eat gelato, and watch Bob’s Burgers.

You can see it all on videos I made of experience abraod:

Part 1: https://www.facebook.com/medford3/videos/10207325796570980/?l=5569562215538853089

Part 2: https://www.facebook.com/medford3/videos/10207800549119497/?l=6233554929953433540