I always knew I would study abroad, even before I was in college. It seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. But while I was going through the application process, I started to have some doubts. Everyone I talked to said the same thing, “Studying abroad is the most amazing experience you have in college. It changed my life.” It started to wonder, is it really that life changing? Well, January marks the one year anniversary of my time studying abroad in Manchester, England. And I can tell you with complete confidence, and no bias, that it definitely is life-changing and the most amazing experience you’ll have in college. Okay, maybe I’m a little biased, but I promise I’m telling the truth. My time abroad was full of incredible experiences and I will cherish those memories forever. Luckily, I came back home with more than just memories. Here’s a reflection of what I learned from my time studying abroad, how it changed my life, and how it might be able to impact your life as well.
Sometimes Getting Away from the Ordinary Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Mental Health
So a little background about me: I studied abroad my spring semester of junior year and at the time I was going through a major life makeover. I was changing a lot of things in my personal life. My mental health, which had hit an all time low the year before, was a big priority of mind. And I was also working on updating my friends list and removing toxic relationships. Overall, I was attempting to grow into a better version of myself.
I was still in the midst of this process when I left for study abroad. It felt a little like I was running away from my problems. I didn’t want my study abroad experience to be about fixing my issues, but it ended up being the best thing for them. Getting to start over in a new place with new people allowed me to have the freedom to be who I really was without the stress from my life and relationships back home. Going abroad reignited my sense of self and overall well-being. Plus, exploring a new place is a great and healthy way to find new interests and passions.
Be More Open to Change and Spontaneity
This advice is by far one of my most valuable and applicable lessons I learned while abroad. I’m definitely the type of person who has to think about a trip for two weeks and research all the details before I agree to go. But while I was living in England, I pushed myself to be more adventurous and it paid off! One of my absolute favorite places I went to was to Ibiza, Spain. I booked that trip within a of couple days. I didn’t know much about Ibiza, but when a friend of mine mentioned there were some cheap flights a couple months out I decided to research it. Trust me, the pictures don’t do it justice.
Time flies so quickly while you’re abroad and you really don’t realize it at first. It’s important to take advantage of traveling while you can. And my advice is go as far as you can for as long as you can—you won’t regret it. I’ve also incorporated this lesson into my life back home. I try to do small weekend trips or day explorations with friends when I can. It’s become a really great way to take a break from school, and it also gives us some fun memories to look back on.
Just Because You Have Friends Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Need to Meet New People
Before I got to England, I was expecting most of the people I met to be from my host university. When I got there though, I found it really hard to break into friend groups and meet locals in my classes. I started to realize how ingrained we get into everyday patterns when we are going through our daily lives. We tend to stick to the same group of friends and never really give other people the opportunity to join in. I started thinking about how that may affect my life back home. Did I make the effort to meet new people and make them feel included?
Do More Stuff Alone
By far the hardest thing about my time studying abroad was going on the experience alone. Even though I’ve always loved traveling, doing something that huge alone was pretty intimidating. I remember when I first left, I was so stressed thinking about what I wanted to do and how I would get everywhere. I forgot to actually enjoy my time traveling solo. It’s a little scary I’ll admit. There were times I wished I had a friend with me, especially when I wanted a cute picture. But I had so much fun traveling by myself when I stopped worrying about the fact that I was alone. I went to Paris and London by myself, and explored some areas around Manchester, England where I was staying. It was really empowering to have the freedom to control all my plans and see what I wanted to see. I realized that I was not only starting to enjoy my time alone more, but that I was becoming more confident as well.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Letting Go of Toxic People
I found that studying abroad did wonders to my confidence in general. I was experiencing new things, meeting new people, and it felt like I was really succeeding being on my own. On top of that, I had found a really incredible friend group who supported and encouraged me throughout the whole trip. We all became really close, and it was clear I had made friends who would mean a lot to me long after we left England. Having that support system abroad, as well as back home, helped give me a new perspective on what healthy relationships looked like. This made me reevaluate some of the relationships I had back home. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it may be time to let go of some friends who had become toxic.
Learn to Prioritize What’s Most Important (To You)
Not only was I learning to prioritize the right people in my life when I was abroad, but I was learning how to prioritize what really mattered most to me. While studying abroad is about taking classes and keeping up with your academics, it’s also about discovering and gaining new perspectives. I wanted to focus on traveling while I was in England because it was what was most important to me. Also, finding my priorities made it easier for me to schedule plans and create a more enjoyable lifestyle while I was abroad. I knew that many things changed about me when I was abroad, but figuring out what was most important to me has impacted my life so much even since I’ve been back. I know what I need to do to be productive and responsible. But I’m also able to do things that make my life happier. Every day feels more like I’m living with purpose, which makes every day better.
Have you studied abroad? Let me know about your experience in the comments below!
Opening image by Katarina Brunette