My study abroad experience just ended. I’m still getting acclimated to being back in the United States, but I can’t help but think back to who I was when I first left for Rome. I was bright eyed, ecstatic, and enamored by the idea of fully immersive travel. I was excited to discover things about myself that I never noticed, and get to discover the world alongside my studies. (nerdy, I know)
It was everything I dreamed of in my life so far. I felt so grown up leaving everything I knew, and yet, also like I was an infant leaving home.
And you know what? Study abroad met all of my expectations. It wasn’t always easy, it didn’t come without a lot of bumps, but it was everything I needed. It expanded my world, and made my world so much more colorful and richer than I ever could have imagined.
Everyone tells you that you are going to learn so much in your time abroad, but it’s astounding just how much you learn. I learned about different cultures, I learned about myself, and I learned a lot about how I want to move through the world, and what I want to do with my time in the world.
Home isn’t a place, it’s people.
I never got homesick, which was weird. I missed people, not places. I often found myself wishing people could be with me on my adventures, or that I could just see someone for a few hours.
In Rome, I found new friends, and new people who helped shape my definition of home. I discovered that I can make just about anywhere feel like home, I just need to meet amazing humans to do so.
Journaling is so important.
I kept a travel journal while I was abroad, but it was different from all of my friends journals. I’ve learned that I can’t just write in a journal. (which is really weird…because…this blog)
I need visual aspects, which is why I love art journaling. While I was abroad, I kept every ticket, receipt, and snatched every business card I could find. I even brought a portable bluetooth printer for my phone so I could add more to my journal.
In my few weeks back, I’ve already discovered how important my journal is going to be. Rome already feels like a dream, and being able to look back on everything for years to come will help ground me.
To love what I don’t understand.
When you are thrown into another culture that is so vastly different from the one you grew up in, you can’t help but notice all of the differences. And for me, rather than feeling alienated, I learned to love everything I didn’t understand.
I loved the customs I didn’t quite have the hang of, like bacio bacio, the conversations I could only half follow, and things that reminded me that I wasn’t in Chicago anymore.
The ridiculous driving in Rome. The paprika pringles. The worry free culture. The 4 hour long meals. These moments? All these differences? They remind me of how lucky I am, and how much I love everything that brought me here.
In my experience, first reactions to something we don’t understand can be met with fear or anger, but studying abroad for 4 months helped me to be curious, and accept what I didn’t understand as a new normal. That’s something I hope will stick for decades to come.
To let go.
Of expectations. Of boundaries. Of yourself. (or who you think you are)
Let yourself just be. Interact with the world without opinions. Do things you never thought you’d try. If you never give it a chance, you’ll really never know.
To keep learning.
Ask questions, go new places, and learn new things. You are abroad to study, after all. (pshh)
Learn anything and everything. From how to order gelato in Italian, to pouring a beer from a tap. Absorb everything. You’ll never get this chance again.
Alone time is important.
And most of all, I learned how to be on my own. I learned to be independent.
I recharge by being on my own. While I never got to take a solo trip, I would constantly adventure Rome on my own, and it ended up being one of my favorite things to do.
Since coming back to the U.S. I feel like a real adult?
When I turned 18, I liked to talk about how I was an adult, but let’s be completely honest, I wasn’t even close.
Even now, I know I’m not quite there, but I’m so much closer. I know who I am, I’m confident in myself, and I don’t feel scared to take on the world anymore.
Study abroad was the best experience in my life so far. It was everything I wanted it to be, and more importantly, everything I needed it to be. I’m not who I was when I left, but I love who I am now.
Let’s do this, 2017.