While many students plan their semester abroad with a group of friends or peers from their home university, I made the journey to London completely on my own and found myself studying abroad alone. No one else from my school had the same plans I did — but that didn’t stop me. I have wanted to travel to Europe ever since I can remember, and I jumped at the opportunity to do so with the study abroad program at my college without hesitation.
I guess I didn’t realize how much time I would be spending alone while I studied abroad. I have been lucky enough to make international friends and have run all around the city with different, really interesting people. But, because my time here is so short, and because I am surrounded by busy students and far away from my people at home, a large portion of my time is spent with myself.
Unexpectedly, I am grateful for how studying abroad alone taught me to be independent. I now have this new skill that I will take with me when I eventually return to my life before. Keep reading for the five ways studying abroad taught me to enjoy my time alone.
Leaves Room for Spontaneity
Studying abroad alone often led to finding myself frequenting the city on my own. I like to wander down the streets of London, seeing where each will lead me. One day, I decided to walk into a small, family-owned cafe I passed by, in the mood to get some schoolwork done while I sipped my coffee…and I enjoyed the best oat milk cappuccino I had ever tasted in all my years of drinking oat milk cappuccinos (which is a lot). I had a great conversation with the woman behind the counter and found my new favorite spot in the city.
I left the coffee shop and saw a large crowd of people huddled in Trafalgar Square, as if waiting for something to happen. Not knowing what to expect, I sat on a bench in the crowd and waited with them. The next thing I knew, a beautifully-crafted, 10-foot tall puppet turned the corner and the crowd started to cheer. “The Walk” was a traveling festival to support refugees from the Syria-Turkey border and raise awareness for displaced children. The performance and the message that followed were heart-wrenching and moving, and I am so grateful I stumbled upon this event.
When you go out by yourself, you don’t have others’ wants and needs to consider. If I were with my peers, I wouldn’t have walked into that cafe or unknowingly sat in the crowd of spectators. I get to decide what I want to do and how I want to spend my time — which can be greatly rewarding. You never know where your day will lead you.
Grants Space to Give Your Body What It Needs
I find it difficult to say “no” to people. I would rarely opt to stay home when friends invited me to their plans or asked me to accompany them somewhere. I love to be busy and spend my time with others. However, since being abroad, I have had fewer opportunities to go out with my close friends and family so far away. Plus the students I am surrounded by put their assignments at a higher priority than their social life (rightfully so, I guess).
As a result, I have spent nights in my room and started to get the rest I had been depriving myself of for so long. I’ve had more time to work out, complete my homework, read, and do self-care routines. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that I felt better and more energized, and ended up enjoying myself more than when I had plans 24/7.
This go-go-go way of thinking can be blindly harmful to your body. It wasn’t until I was forced to take time for myself that I realized that it was something I actually needed. Now, I look forward to making dinner and eating it in my room while I watch an episode of whatever Netflix show I am binging, each day. I don’t mind getting into bed early with a book and some tea.
Gives Mental Clarity and Encourages Self-Reflection
Without the distraction of company, you get a real chance to reflect on your own thoughts. The constant consumption of others’ opinions, ideas, and stories can blind you for what you really feel. You can work out what is bothering you and find a solution to your problems. Spend time with yourself to learn what your goals are, what you want out of life, and how you can keep growing into the person you want to be.
It is important to sit with yourself. Take some time to journal, read, cook, and do things that make yourself feel good.
Traveling has taught me so much about who I am and who I want to be. I have the opportunity to reflect on my life and relationships back home, removed from that environment. I am exposed to a new way of life here that I can take with me when I return. I am grateful for this time with myself that is not so lonely.
Removes Limitations on Experiences
I can remember one specific day when I was really down on myself about being alone. It was a Sunday, and every person I met since arriving was too busy to go out and do anything with me. The guilt of wasting the time I had in my favorite city started to make me spiral to self-pity. To snap out of it, I decided to take myself out on a date for the first time.
I had been wanting to visit The National Gallery since I stepped off the plane, and could never find someone who was interested in going. It was either too boring or not worthwhile for many, so I let it sit in the back of my mind until someone hopefully decided to accompany me (how silly is that?). That Sunday, I let CityMapper lead the way and put myself on a train headed toward the museum. I ordered a ticket and stood with the groups of friends and couples socializing in the line waiting to get in. For some reason, I felt uncomfortable and exposed…and a little embarrassed to be by myself.
But, once I made it through the doors and walked into the big, open rooms covered floor to ceiling in magnificent, angelic paintings, all my insecurities flew out the window. I took in each piece of art and let myself get lost. I sat on a bench and analyzed my favorites for as long as I wanted. I bought myself a little Van Gogh inspired necklace in the gift shop on the way out, and left with a different perspective.
Taking it upon myself to do the thing I was eager to do was so incredibly fulfilling. I learned I didn’t need company to experience the most beautiful things in life. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I would have enjoyed myself and gotten as much out of that trip if I had gone with my friends.
Gifts Power Through Self Confidence
I am no longer limited in what I can do because I know I can do it alone. Being abroad has shown me that I am capable of going anywhere and doing anything by myself. I am no longer dependent on others to accomplish what I want to accomplish or experience the things I want to experience. The fear and hesitation of going out on my own can’t stop me.
I learned that I enjoy shopping alone — I sift through the racks at my own pace and buy the items I like, without anyone else’s approval. Taking pictures is stress-free, without the worry of holding everyone up. Putting headphones in makes me feel like I am strutting to the soundtrack of the movie I am starring in. Now, I have the freedom to do what makes me happy.
Featured photo by @jahaesy.