I’ve talked a lot about where I went during my semester abroad, what I saw, what I fell in love with. But what I haven’t touched on at all is how my semester transformed who I am. Partly because it’s easier to just talk about the where, the why, and the experience. Partly because it means admitting — in the digital world, in front of all of you beautiful souls— some things I learned about myself the hard way. Not all of them are bad things, mind you, but saying publicly “I was so wrapped up in my own pity party for a year for no good reason” is just not an easy thing to do.
But.. I was so wrapped up in my own pity party for a year for no good reason, and it took living in a country where I could barely speak the language, with twenty other students I didn’t know, to make me realize that. And to make me realize what a waste of time it was to hold onto things I was letting control my life long after they had passed.
I started my college career at a community college, and it was amazing. I was there for a year getting general education credits out of the way before I transferred into the university I’m at now. When I transferred in two years ago, I was assigned a roommate (more or less — this is a story in and of itself) and we got along amazingly. She and her boyfriend adopted me into their group of friends, so I only made a handful of friends on my own that first semester. It wasn’t until the spring semester that things got bad. She was having trouble with her boyfriend and after they broke up our relationship got so tense and eventually it was such a bad situation that I ended up moving into a room on the other side of our hall in the dorm.
Since then, I’d isolated myself from people at school, I didn’t work in a very social environment, and I was waiting for the summer. Which came and went in its own time. Last fall I lived in a single room in a different residence hall, because I was so wary of living with someone after what had happened the year before. It was great because I love living in my own space, having a sacred area that’s just mine. But it was incredibly detrimental because it was all too easy to just go to class, go to the library to study, and eat dinner alone in my room and not emerge until the next day to do it all over. I was blogging, I did go out and study with some friends semi-regularly at one of the 24 hour coffee shops in Austin, and I was going home nearly every weekend to see my parents.
I isolated myself, on purpose, because I’d been burned by one person.
It was terrible. And quite lonely.
My grades suffered that semester, as did my mental health. I was working erratic hours as an on-call nanny. I felt drained and like I was struggling to go through the motions of everything.
Then I found out I had been accepted to study abroad in Angers, France for the next spring semester. I was terrified and ecstatic!! I had fought so hard to be able to even apply, but never in a million years did I truly think I would be selected to go. I’d never been outside of America before that, but already had a love for travel from my journeys across America over the years.
But being away from my family for four months? From my friends? In a country where I only knew how to say “yes, no, please, excuse me, thank you,”? With people I didn’t know at all?
I was scared beyond anything I’d ever felt. Especially since I still believed not connecting with anyone was the best choice I could make.
But I got on the plane, tried not to cry when I hugged my parents goodbye in the airport, flew from Austin to New York to Paris. From the first instant I met the people in my program, I realized they were as scared and clueless as I was. And that together, we’d be okay.
In Angers we each had our own little efficiency apartments, so I was still living on my own, but I was never alone in the same sense that I was in Austin. Our university was 30 minutes away by foot, and everyone walked together depending on what time our morning classes were because we didn’t want to get lost. The first forays into the supermarkets were made together, bonding over being the token loud, obnoxious, “what the hell is this?” Americans in such a small city in France. I had my first crêpe with three girls I barely knew, went drinking in pubs with other students, visited the local museums with them, and did so much more.
At the beginning everyone was each other’s best friend, but over the course of the semester true bonds of friendship were created and I spent time with the people who I wanted to be around. Not to say that it was all sunshine and roses, because some friendships didn’t work out and everyone handled the transition in their own way. But for the most part? I’m pretty damn confident in saying that I’ve made some friends for life who I shared an unforgettable part of mine with.
Over the course of the four months I realized just how much I was limiting myself back in America. Why was I shutting myself off from anyone who could get close when I could make new friends so easily and have such an amazing time with them? Why did I treat myself like I was a fragile creature when I was strong enough to survive in a foreign country with a clumsy tongue? Why did I let one bad experience sour my life for so long after the fact?
I’m still quiet, still a bit introverted (off the web, anyways), and I still need time to recharge after a certain amount of social interaction. But that girl who was too scared to even talk to anyone new because she’d been hurt? That’s not who I am anymore.
And I honestly don’t think I would’ve grown in this way, that I would have recognized all of my own self-limiting beliefs, if I hadn’t spent last semester in France. For that I’m eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to study abroad during my undergraduate career.
So now, I try to implement a philosophy I acquired while in France — just say yes. Trust that the universe will take care of you. For me it means saying yes to meeting friends for impromptu ramen dates at 9 P.M., to taking on new projects and challenges at work, to putting myself first and doing what I need to take care of my well-being. It means embracing new experiences, whether they are good or they hurt and offer a lesson. It means forgiving and moving on. It means I get to spend more time with the people who matter, and forging new relationships with people I vibrate on the same frequency with at a soul level.
It means being scared and using that fear to push myself further than I’ve gone before.
And it means knowing that I’m strong enough to do so and support myself.
How about you, darling? Have you had an experience that made you realize the inner strength you carry inside your soul? I'd love to hear all about it in the comments below!
P.S. -- The year before I went to Angers, there was origami art all over the city! It's super awesome (+ makes me homesick for that beautiful city)