“Abroad changed me!” If you’ve been at this school long enough to know people who have studied abroad, you’ve likely heard this several times. I’ve had friends who lust to return to their semester abroad, calling it the best few months of their lives, saying they’re a different person after spending a semester in a faraway country.
By the time it reached October of my semester abroad, I was ready to go home. I wondered to myself how I could possibly spend two more grueling months in the atmosphere I was in? I had never felt that back at Muhlenberg.
This is not a bash on study abroad—in fact, I think it is one of the most incredible opportunities that I am so forever grateful for, and I advise anyone interested in doing it to do it. (Also something to note is that your financial aid applies to your abroad program too—this opened up a world of possibilities for me!) Abroad allowed me to leave the country for the first time and experience cultures different from my own, showing me the beauty in the world in a more expansive way than I had ever experienced prior. I was able to see where I live from a foreign angle, showing me just how grateful I should be for what I have and just how much work we still have to do. I had the most incredible professors and classes, and it was from these academic experiences that I decided I needed to go to grad school because I loved the work I was doing that much. On paper, my study abroad experience was awesome, and a lot of that rang true in real life too.
And yet every day felt like a challenge. Sometimes I would lock myself away in my room and immerse myself in a book just to get away from it all. It was all too much. For me specifically, it came down to the people. As humans, we crave to know each other and to be known, and I felt like I was in an atmosphere where it seemed impossible to do so. A basic need was not being met. And this is no dig to the people I was with—they are all great people, but something about many of these specific people together made for a rather negative atmosphere that I just could not stomach. So, a few weeks in, I had to make the choice to try to embrace all of the good despite the bad that seemed way more in my face, and this extrovert learned to outsource her joy away from people and instead to the amazing things I mentioned earlier.
Studying abroad is amazing. Studying abroad is once-in-a-lifetime. Studying abroad is also really, really hard. And I guess that’s why I wrote this—to share how these feelings can coexist. Joy and sadness can live together. Happiness and profound loneliness can also appear in the same hand. And if you study abroad and it isn’t the best four months of your life—that is okay! You are not alone. You are not weird or ungrateful or doing something wrong if you are not in a state of pure ecstasy. Even with negative experiences, we grow and learn, and I wouldn’t want to change who I am today. I am grateful for the good and also grateful for the growth.