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Lost in Cork: Battling Loneliness as a Solo Study Abroad Student

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UMKC chapter.

Last fall, I began filling out my paperwork to be a direct exchange student at the University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. After facing some unexpected obstacles, I came out on top—I’m now studying at my first choice university for the fall semester. 

My plane touched down in Ireland three weeks ago. It was the longest flight of my life with three layovers—one of which was in London Heathrow, Europe’s biggest airport—and I was sweaty, hungry and exhausted when I sat down in a cab for the final stretch of my journey. But looking out my window at the different city sights, I had no doubt that I’d made the right choice. 

I’ve been here less than a month, and what’s surprised me the most about studying abroad is how lonely I feel. I’m not studying with an organized exchange program like all of the European Erasmus students. It’s just me. 

I’m not homesick exactly. I’ve always liked being alone, and one of the things that excited me the most about studying abroad is that I would be by myself on a new continent. I’ve never left the U.S. before, so this is like the ultimate proof that I’m capable of being independent. But it’s strange to go from living in the same place all your life to literally knowing no one. 

I’ve met a lot of other international students, but most of them are from other places in Europe. Their families are coming to visit them and they’re only a few hours by plane from their homes. They’ve come here with other people from their own universities, so they already have a built-in community. 

So far, the only remedy I’ve found for this loneliness is to acknowledge it. I’ve come halfway around the world, away from everything that I know, and I’m not ashamed to be afraid. There are days when I want to stay in bed until noon instead of exploring the city, when I decide to read a book instead of day-tripping to the beach or a castle. Instead of getting upset with myself, I journal about how studying abroad isn’t a magical, cure-all experience for my fears. I stay in my apartment and watch the city from my window until I feel confident enough to go out. 

When I don’t want to be alone, I text one of the international student group chats to see if anyone wants to go for a coffee or a walk. I hang out in the kitchen with my roommates, attend the uni meet-ups and call home. 

If you’re interested in a direct exchange program, you have to be prepared for the isolation. Even if you’re an extrovert, it can be difficult to meet people and make friends. I wouldn’t change my program, the location or my choice to study solo, but sometimes it feels like this adventure is too big for me. When I’m able to release the fear, I realize that it’s actually exactly the right size.

Lauren Textor is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who is studying English. She is one of UMKC's Campus Correspondents. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, painting, and sight-seeing at possibly haunted locations.