Lessons from 3,269 miles away

Deep breaths. Look out the window. Remember to consciously recognize your gratitude. 15 weeks. Enjoy it.

These are only some of the sentences I’ve been reciting to myself since the morning of Jan. 9 when I landed in London. With bleary eyes, a large suitcase and no expectations, I threw myself headfirst into studying and living in another country for the first time.

Chloe Hunnam / DFP Staff

Now, as I’m writing this in the midst of week 14 out of 15, I can say with all confidence that it’s been a whirlwind of an experience. And thank goodness for that.

I’ve visited as many places as possible and that’s been satisfying and extremely fun. But the experience has been more mental than anything, stimulated by the fact that I’m in a city that will never quite feel like home, but brings an unexplainable ease to me now than it did when I first got here.

The gratitude underlying it all has been something I’ve struggled and redefined for myself. I’ve wanted to study abroad ever since I knew what it was, and I’ve talked about doing it in London since I was in middle school. And having the chance to study in a city as lively as London is such a wonderful opportunity. Yet, sometimes, that’s a really hard thing to remember.

It’s hard to remember when you have to figure out how to not spend too much money in a place where everything is expensive. Or when you almost get run over by cars because you’re looking in the wrong direction. Or when, simply, you’re just living in a new country and diving right into it for four months.

As someone who’s always been quite jarred by big change, you’d think I would’ve seen it coming. But I’ve come to realize that no matter if you expect it or not, the experience is always something different than what you could’ve imagined. And despite how frustrating it can be, wouldn’t life be so boring if you knew exactly what was coming?

No feeling or thought is straightforward or black and white. There’s a contour and nuance to everything you feel — a push and pull. And it’s okay and valid to feel the more negative side to something even when you’re supposed to be having the time of your life.

In short, your problems and emotions come with you no matter where you are in the world. They may just be presented in a different light.

But in between the mental battles, this abroad experience was filled with blissful moments I will keep with me for the rest of my life. From sitting in Hyde Park for hours during the one sunny week London had, listening to music and people watching to sitting in front of the ginormous Prague Castle with two friends just admiring the sheer splendour of it all to running down empty streets at night coming back from a pub to going on the Tube and knowing exactly where to get off — this is what it’s all about.

The balance between being grateful and acknowledging that it’s okay to still feel sad was something that I struggled with. I didn’t want to be sad about feeling off when I was living in an experience that I had been thinking about for a very long time. But that’s not how life works. We exist in an equilibrium.

Maybe this isn’t synonymous with studying abroad and just comes along with growing up, but I’ve learned that life doesn’t get put on hold. Ever. If anything, it’s just going to continue speeding up.

But more than anything, I’ve learned that it’s important to know what comforts you and brings peace to your mind and that it’s essential to make time for it, no matter if the circumstances are telling you otherwise. Of course, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone in London, but I learned that if I didn’t make time to do things that I know bring me joy, then I would get too swept up in it all and lose footing.

I don’t want to say that I became a new person abroad, because that’s just unrealistic and not true. But, as with any new experience, I definitely tapped into different parts of myself — some amazing and some I’m not extremely proud of. But what a privilege it’s been.

When I come back home and people inevitably ask how studying abroad was, the answer I give will vary. Maybe I’ll say that it was brilliant and wonderful. Maybe I’ll say that it was one of the hardest semesters I’ve had yet. Whatever answer I’ll give, I know that I’ll have no regrets and I know that I’ll verbalize my immense gratitude.

With all that being said, I’m ready to come home. And I’m also going to miss London very much. Push and pull. An equilibrium.

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