When I made the decision to study abroad, I was in — even knowing that none of my family or friends would be in the same country, or in my case the same hemisphere. I knew that even though I was bound to make some awesome new friends, it wouldn’t be the same as hanging out with all my lifelong friends back home. With all that said, I had no idea that I would become my best friend while abroad.
Studying abroad is a great exercise in learning to do things for yourself and learning to make choices each day to do what makes you the most happy. Your best friend from home that also loves to get brunch on the weekends isn’t here but is that going to stop you from going to brunch? Well the first few weeks it might, but not now. All your friends are in class but you want to go to the beach, is that a problem? Nope. Back at home I wasn’t someone who I would have classified as an independent adventurer. I loved to do things, but I generally had someone with me. Here, things are totally different, and it has been one of the most valuable things about this experience.
I never knew how important it was to do things just because you want to do them, until I started doing it. That doesn’t mean not going with the flow and tagging along to something that wasn’t your first choice, but I’ve had a lot more free time here than I usually do at home, and I’ve been able to fill that with the things that I want or need to do.
Even mundane tasks such as going to the ATM or the grocery store that were initially intimidating in a foreign country have become a sort of reprieve for me. I greatly enjoy going for walks through the city and down to the waterfront to relax and clear my mind. While you’re studying abroad there is so much mental and emotional stress and stimuli that if you don’t take a break to let it all soak in, you are going to be very overwhelmed very quickly.
I’ve found that the best way for me to let my experiences marinate in my mind is to be alone. I love going window shopping and checking out the unique stores in downtown that are so unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles. I love to sit by the water and watch the glamorous yachts come in and out of the port wondering who owns them and what they do for a living.
Spending more time alone also makes me appreciate the great relationships that I have with my friends and family, both here and back in the States. I wasn’t previously someone who minded grabbing lunch at Campus Center alone or waiting for my friends to get out of class by working on homework by myself for an hour, but now I’ve embraced how much more freedom I have by being able to do what I want, when I want.
At the end of the day, I feel so much better about myself on the inside knowing that I didn’t postpone or change my plans just to satisfy other people. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still a social person. I haven’t undergone a personality change and become a hermit, but I’ve realized the value in being able to spend a day alone. It’s liberating to be satisfying yourself just by doing something you want to do, whether that means reading in the park, grabbing lunch or running the errands I’d been putting off all weekend. I’ve been doing what I want to do, for the most important person in my life — me.