Packing Up and Shipping Out—How Studying Abroad Made Me a Better Person

If I ever met the version of myself that existed before studying abroad, I would barely recognize the girl.  An insecure, social anxiety-ridden nineteen-year-old from a nowhere town who could hardly order food from restaurants, let alone travel thousands of miles across an ocean to a city in a country she’d never set foot in completely by herself.  Who even was she?  What a mess (I mean, I am still a mess, but in a cooler and more confident way.).

In September 2018, I said goodbye to the only two homes I had ever known—Maine and Boston—to live in London for nearly four months.  I knew not a single soul in the English literature program I signed up for and had no idea how I was going to navigate the city by myself.  I had one suitcase and the address for my flat – that’s it.  I just packed up and left.  I was going in utterly blind and entirely alone.  Yet, I had never been more excited about something in my entire life.

Credit: Author

The semester began with me becoming almost instantly close with the roommate I was randomly assigned.  Even this was a first; I had made a few friends freshman year, but none seemed to really stick, so I had grown used to being on my own while at school.  Being assigned a random roommate was a stressful thought, as it is for most students.  Then came Anna, one of the first really genuine and great people I had the pleasure of spending most of my time with.  If you’re worried about getting random roommates you’ve never met before, just know that there’s always a chance for them to become your new best friend!

Having made new friends, I felt the most socially supported in college I had ever been.  Everyone in our program was genuinely passionate about our curriculum, which was another first, and we all put great effort and care into our work.  It’s amazing how it feels to be working with people who are just as interested and excited about the topic of your studies as you are.

London made me feel the most academically fulfilled and happy as I had ever been, and my grades ended up the highest they’d ever been as a result.  Do what you love, guys.  Chase it to the ends of the earth if you have to.  You’ll thank yourself later.

Credit: Author

London marked the happiest period I can recall experiencing in any academic setting.  And since I was so at peace and genuinely motivated, I felt able to be much more authentically myself.  I had the support of friends for the first time since high school and it was life-changing.

Almost inevitably, this led to me coming fully out as bisexual and being totally comfortable with my sexuality.  I had told a couple of people back home that previous summer, but this was the first time I was so open to new people and was chill with that.  Something about throwing yourself into an unfamiliar, faraway place tends to bare your truer self to the world.  Authenticity is something I deeply value in people, and I finally felt capable of being entirely myself because of the confidence that studying abroad bestowed upon me.

This isn’t to say that studying abroad was a cure-all.  I was still very anxious and scared about being alone and missed the familiarity of home.  But I was forced to adapt to my new environment by becoming more independent and self-aware, and this undoubtedly shaped me into a more well-rounded individual, capable of taking care of herself.

Credit: Author

Whether you’re just looking for a change in perspective or trying to find yourself in a place you’ve never been, studying abroad is the move to take.  It’s a big step that can be scary and may take some courage, but it is worth it in every way.

Even financially, which is a common misconception, London was my cheapest college semester so far.  I implore you to look into some abroad programs and see if there’s any that interest you.  College is often your only chance to truly immerse yourself in a different country without fully committing to moving there indefinitely; take advantage of the college experience you’re already paying for and do something that actually excites you!

Sometimes you just have to drop everything and get out into the world in order to regroup and become more authentically yourself.  And maybe you’ll also discover that inner authenticity in the first place.  Studying abroad was this for me – maybe you’ll feel the same.


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