Lately I’ve been researching opportunities to study abroad. After a lot of research I decided on a university in Scotland (it’s not for sure, I haven’t met with an advisor yet to see how it would work. But I think I’ve done enough research to know it’s a definite possibility). It seems perfect and like a totally new experience. But (there is always a “but” isn’t there?) I started wondering why I want to study abroad so bad.
Sure, it’s a great opportunity that I may never have again. I’ve never been in an airplane, I haven’t seen much of the world outside of California –just Nevada, Baja California (Mexico), and Nebraska when I was really young–, the biggest risk I’ve ever taken was moving three hours away for college, and I want to experience something new. But in reality I’m rather shy (working on it!), meeting new people scares me, large groups send me into a panic, and the mere thought of being in a foreign country all by myself makes me nervous. So why do I want this so bad?
I keep thinking of all the ways it could wrong: I might not make any friends, I might revert back to being even more shy, I might get sick, the country might break out into war, a volcano could explode, an earthquake could kill me… you see, I like to over think everything. But I also think of all the amazing things that could happen: I could make new friends, have a great time, learn about a culture and a country I know very little about, break free of my shyness, become more of the person I’ve always wanted to be… the list could probably go on forever (and if I go much further it will get as absurd as the previous list). Is it worth taking those risks in hopes of something great happening? And I guess the most likely scenario would be a mix of bad and good experiences.
And this brings me back to what has been bothering me for a few weeks now: will the mix of good and bad I experience abroad be better than the mix of good and bad I would experience if I stayed here? Until recently I haven’t really been worried about what I would miss out on if I left for a semester, because honestly school hasn’t been going great. And I’m not talking so much about academics because I honestly love the college I’m at, but I’m referring to feeling like I don’t belong as much as I should. Last year I met my best friend Lexi, and she’s the closest friend I’ve had in years, but other than that I haven’t forged very many close relationships. Coming out of high school as a complete loner I thought it was the best thing in the world to finally have a close friend, and I’m still super happy to have Lexi, but I’m realizing that having one friend and a bunch of acquaintances still gets lonely. I don’t want to be miss popular or anything, but I would like to have a group of friends. So I figured, only having one close friend, if I left for a semester she would still be here when I get back and maybe I would make some friends abroad and not miss out on much while I’m gone.
But things have changed since the beginning of the semester. I’ve gotten close to people I met last semester, and I would now call them my friends. I’m not great at making friends (in case you haven’t notice), and it takes me while to get close to people, but I think I’ve really made some new friends and it makes me really happy. I’m getting closer to my fellow English majors through English club, and I finally don’t feel like an outsider in my department. I sit with my friends during class and chat; it’s been a long time since I’ve had that. Now one of my new friends is co-creating a new professional fraternity on campus for language majors. I never thought in a million years I would be rushing and joining anything Greek. Granted, it is different because it is professional and not social, and it is brand new so we would be the first “pledge class” ever so all those weird initiation things aren’t really established yet (I’m still not exactly sure what any of this means because I’ve been vehemently avoiding anything to do with sororities since I started college). But I’m going to try to join it, I’m pretty sure I’ll get in, and then that will be one more thing to tie me to the campus and hopefully help me make more friends.
The more friends I make and the more involved I am in campus clubs and activities the more hesitant I am to move halfway across the planet for a semester. There’s so much more I could be missing out on now that I feel like I truly belong. And I’m scared of losing my new friends, missing out on opportunities to establish more close relationships, and losing that feeling of belonging which I have for the first time since eighth grade. There’s also the issue of my best friend Lexi. I couldn’t imagine going to school for a semester here and having her away studying abroad. So I know she won’t like the idea of having me gone either. I haven’t noticed until recently because I was too concerned with myself, but she doesn’t have all that many more friends than me. She kept asking why I would ever want to study abroad, which I always answered with “who wouldn’t want to study abroad?” But maybe our friendship means as much to her as it does to me, which is a really hard concept for me to get my head around because I’ve always felt that my friendships up to this point have been more one-sided. I’ve always felt that I needed and wanted a friendship to work more than the other person, although I never managed to show this effectively as I’ve always managed to drift away from those friends who mattered most to me because I was always afraid they secretly didn’t want to be my friend. I now see that this probably wasn’t true, and I really wish I’d seen this when I was younger because life would have been so much easier with friends. But that’s what growing up it about: learning. This is just another lesson, and it took me way too long to finally get it, but I’m glad I finally feel like my friendship matters to others.
Anyway, I didn’t exactly mean for this post to turn into a reflection on my past friendships and current ones, but that’s usually what happens when I write. I start in one place and end up in another, and I usually come to some realization along the way. One more reason why I love writing so much.
Ok, back on topic. If I take this wonderful opportunity to study abroad and experience something totally new – an opportunity which I may never have again – I may risk my newfound sense of belonging by placing myself in a foreign country surrounded by new people, new opportunities, and old problems. Will I get more out of a semester in Scotland than I will out of a semester here with my new friends? I guess it’s impossible to know. But I don’t think I can pass up an opportunity like this. Even if studying abroad goes bad, at the very least I will learn more about the country and more about myself. And learning about myself is the best way of figuring out how to make myself more happy and more of who I want to be. So for now, I’m going to go ahead with my plan, it’s not set in stone and it could very possibly change, but I’m going to try very hard to find a way to study abroad. Maybe it won’t be Scotland, but I think it would be worth it to go anywhere that I am able to. Because no matter if my original motive for wanting to leave the country was to escape from my problems, the only motive I have for not leaving is fear. I’m going to take my chances because learning to take risks is a lesson I still need to learn.