Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone: A Look Back on My Year Abroad

After spending two years at the University of Florida, I wanted to know what university life would be like elsewhere. So, I began my exchange at the University of Leeds in England with Global E3 last fall. I spent my entire third year of school abroad. And while I learned a lot in my classes, I also learned valuable lessons outside of school. I faced entirely new experiences and situations which allowed me to get outside of my comfort zone. Here’s a glimpse into what I learned:

Making friends from all over the world

The University of Leeds is an international school. Still, every time I was amazed when people told me where they were from. From Asia to South America, I met someone from every background. I felt overwhelmed at first meeting new people, but I instantly connected with the students. We all bonded over the fact that life in the U.K. differs greatly from life back home. I learned so much about their culture.

It was tough for me going out of my way to meet people but worth it. I met some of my closest friends, from Spain and Japan, respectively. I plan on visiting them in the future. Meeting people abroad helped me gain the confidence to interact with others in my day-to-day life.

Flying to another continent without parents

I traveled to Africa with a friend I met abroad. We signed up for a trip to Morocco with an organization called Citylife, which organizes trips catered to university students. All trip excursions were included but we booked our own flights. I remember feeling anxious, calling my mom to see if I was doing the right thing with the online booking website since I had never booked my own international flight. Nightmares taunted me, making me think I forgot to bring my passport. And I feared even the slightest mishap. Nevertheless, I flew to Marrakech with everything I needed in tow.

On one excursion, we rode camels and spent the night staying in Berber tents in the Sahara Desert. I arrived back in England, and everything felt like a dream. This experience made me realize that navigating airports isn’t too complicated, and there is always staff that is happy to help. I also got some insight on traveling with students around my age.

Staying in a hostel on a solo trip

Who knew traveling alone to Edinburgh, Scotland, and staying in a hostel would make up my favorite trip. My friends took trips with each other but our schedules did not match up. The end of my time abroad snuck up on me,  so I took a chance and booked my own bus ticket and hostel. I boarded an overnight coach bus in Leeds, arriving in Edinburgh the next morning.

First, I dropped my backpack off at the hostel and headed to the meeting spot for the start of a free city tour. I saw sights, including the Edinburgh Castle and the National Museum. Afterward, I explored Edinburgh on my own. I walked and used the public bus system for transportation. I did my research beforehand on what to see in Edinburgh, even the hidden gems.

That night was my first night in the hostel. They’re very common throughout Europe and are a cheaper alternative to hotels. Typically, a person stays in a shared bedroom, which varies in the number and gender of people. Some rooms can have 15 people and include multiple genders. Since this was my first time, I felt comfortable sharing with six women. The hostel provided clean bedsheets and kept the shared bathroom in a good condition.

I met my fellow bunkmates that night in the hostel. Most of the girls were around my age – from Australia, Canada and the United States. We talked amongst ourselves, getting to know each other. Some of the girls were also studying abroad like me while others were traveling from their home country. This trip helped me learn an alternate option to hotels as well as feel more comfortable with traveling alone. I also had the unique opportunity to meet other travelers, which I otherwise wouldn’t have if I stayed in a hotel. I am eager to venture on a trip like this again in the future.

I faced many challenges while studying abroad that differed from my experiences back home. These moments helped me learn independence and grow comfortable with social interaction. I learned a lot by going on exchange in a new country, especially outside the classroom.