I now sat alone
Alone. In a city where I didn’t know anyone.
In a room without an ethernet cable to connect myself to my friends and family that I had left behind. I had left my friends, family, and a potential relationship to come here. To Heidelberg. For a year.
A year seemed like an incredibly long time, as I looked out my window.
My window overlooked the city. There was no air conditioning and the sun felt like an iron as it pressed against my white skin. However, the view was beautiful. Red cliffs beckoned me in the the distance as I leaned against my desk in the room of a building that would soon be torn down. This had been my dream, but why was I now afraid? Was anyone else afraid?
I decided to force myself to meet up with fellow students from my university, despite the crawling butterflies in my stomach. Since I had spoken German since birth, I had not met them at my home university. I would not be in their classes in the coming weeks either, but I hoped that being with other Americans would make me feel better.
The butterflies would disappear as I waited at the train station.
Smiles and introductory hugs.
Shared fear about a new country and a new place.
What I realized is that my fears are not unique to me. They were also wondering the same things… Would I make friends? Would I fit in? Was leaving home a mistake?
Over the coming weeks, I would stretch my comfort zone. Meeting people from all over the world. Planning a solo flight to Ireland. Arranging my own budget without having the ability to ask for help from my parents. Learning how to kind of cook 😉
By the end of the year, I would look out of that same window and cry at the empty room when leaving. I had made some great friends and seeing each other again at the same place would be unlikely. The year had been the best of my life and facing my fears had been the best decision I had ever made.
View from the balcony in my apartment building.
The red cliffs which I came to love seeing so much.
Here is a list of some of the lessons I learned from going abroad and why I think you should include it as part of your college experience:
Will my friends forget me?
The most painful lesson I learned from going abroad was who my real friends were and who weren’t. When trying to schedule Skype sessions, some friends couldn’t find the time, although we had been so close on campus.
However, some friendships were made even stronger through my study abroad experience. Getting packages from my friends, skype, and mail help keep us in touch. I would get mittens and scarves to keep me warm. I would send postcards to update them on my whereabouts and I’d skype with them for hours on Sundays.
As we all transitioned from college to work life, these friendships have remained strong. No matter how busy life has become, we always make time for each other. Those kind of friendships are worth their weight in gold and study abroad helped me discover them.
What about the boy I’m leaving behind?
I met him at a free concert sophomore year before I left. I didn’t know much about him, other than I really liked him. His smile was goofy. His eyes were brown. The problem was he was already interested in someone else. A month went by and he invited me to a dance. He was single and I thought I had my chance. We kept dating, but after Christmas, he had some bad news… My going away to Germany for the year was a deal breaker and he had already found himself a girlfriend.
He said, we wouldn’t last anyway.
Crushed, I wondered if I was making the right decision.
If a relationship can’t survive some time apart, it was not meant to survive. Long distance is hard, but manageable, as I would later discover.
But I also discovered he had been right…. He and I wouldn’t have lasted. Relationships require commitment and effort from both sides or they fall apart.
I went on to have an incredible year with no regrets of leaving.
Am I the only one who is scared?
You’re not the only one who is afraid of not making friends.
But what if they judge me?
For what? Saying hello? If they do, there are plenty of other people in the city you will be studying in.
Okay. I did that. But why am I not being invited out?
Make plans first and invite people to them. You may not find your “tribe” when you first arrive, but you will eventually form really meaningful friendships if you continue to put yourself out there.
Will it be hard? Yes.
Will some people hurt your feelings? Maybe.
Will it be worth it? Definitely.
The friendships I made abroad and the experiences with them are still some of the most treasured aspects of my life. Being a little uncomfortable to find them was worth it.
But you don’t get it, I’m really scared.
The idea of meeting my friend in Ireland sounded horrifying to me. What if I didn’t make the bus? What if I messed up the gate to my flight? What if we didn’t find each other and I got lost? As someone who struggled with social anxiety in high school, this seemed like a bad plan all around.
But I booked my ticket and got on a plane.
Upon arriving, I did find her and got to explore Dublin. The best part: I got to reconnect with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. The trip would lead to further travels throughout the year.
Remember, you’re abroad to stretch your comfort zone. Do what scares you. See a little of the world.
And drink some margartias (or whatever that tub was)
You’ll take this with you wherever you go.
Pushing yourself to go after your dreams is really what it’s about anyway. ❤