Are we sad because it happened or sad it's over?
11 Countries, countless cities, life changing relationships and unforgettable memories in the wonder that is Europe has concluded. As I returned home to the life I temporarily put on hold, a thousand thoughts trampled my mind. Will this all just feel like a dream? How long will it take for me to re acquaint myself with "home?" Is it still going to feel like home? How much have I learned that can be transferred into the person I bring back? Please, don't let me lose that person.
The time I spent studying abroad had its ups and downs, but it was by far one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. The challenges along the way were vital to learning about myself, stepping out of my habitual comfort zones, and becoming vulnerable with people I may never get to see again. Every moment was worth it. The bad wasn't even bad. Looking back, I learned something from each moment, it all makes sense now.
Losing expensive items showed me that items aren't really of any value at all. Breaking my elbow in the Republic of Cyprus led to close friendships I may have otherwise missed out on. Starting over in a new place with people who didn't plaster me with my past, was an opportunity for me to create my own future. Being uncomfortable with myself showed me who I am when no one is watching. Lastly, walking into infinite unknowns proved my strength. I earned self respect here and I will be forever grateful.
My four years of high school were spent desperate to be "someone." I didn't know who this person really was or if she was there all along, just hiding behind people pleasing and societal expectations, but I had always been a little lost. The first years of college spiraled out of control as I realized my own insecurities and dealt with them in some of the worst ways. Just when I was getting a grip on reality, coming into my own junior year of college, I left everything I had ever known. I stepped onto a plane in the city I was born and got off to be met head on with nothing but unknown. I left for Europe with two suitcases, a whole lot of hope, and a lot of uncertainty.
The first few days I spent in Graz, Austria were uncomfortable. I was undoubtedly anxious and the jet lag didn't help. As a creature of routine, my world felt shaken and going home was something I looked forward to. It didn't take long for that too change. And yes, it may sound cliche because nowadays it feels like everyone goes to Europe to "find themselves" but that was really never my intention. I was too focused on holding it together and intent on making the best of a situation that I was frankly scared of to spin it into "self-discovery." I wanted to be present and I was determined to come back with at least something to show of myself - even if I had yet to figure out what that was.
I still don't know if it was the spurts of independent travel, moving to a new city and living in it without any familiar support, the phenomenal people I met that forced me to look at myself in a way I was never given the opportunity to do, or simply partaking in the path I was meant to all along. Maybe, it was all of the above. Maybe every person, every "mistake" I thought I made, and every change of plans, was the real plan all along.
These pieces came together in a perfect self improvement sandwich. God had a plan for me here and it wasn't obvious every day, but boy I could feel it. In hindsight some of my worst moments, the downsides, were incredible teaching moments. For the first time, I could not run away from the things I was afraid of. I had no choice, but to stick it out. I couldn't just fly home and pretend it never happened. I had to complete my schooling here even when I got homesick, heal a broken elbow in a non-english speaking country, and live in a body that I still wanted to run out of. These times forced me to see myself authentically. Every emotion I had was justified, it was worthy of attention. I practiced self soothing and I had the time to really see these feelings for what they were. I grew into someone that can take care of herself.
In the months before going abroad, I experienced some pretty dramatic life events. May 2018 I packed up my childhood home, a month later found myself in eating disorder treatment where I would spend the net eight months in intensive care. I watched my dad get remarried that same September and spent too much time on other people to bandage my own insecurities. My weak foundation caused anxiety. Was I "cut out" for this journey? I questioned my strength a lot. Now, I believe I left at the perfect time. Not having it all together, feeling out of balance, being open to my own vulnerabilities and determined to discover as much about my true self as possible was the perfect recipe for an unforgettable experience.
I had so much to figure out, things I wanted to change, and the largest craving for learning how.
Despite exploring new languages, culture, and norms I was also able to explore me. I got to understand what I hate and what I love and what I think is a waste of time. I saw the qualities I want in friends and how I can stick up for myself when someone doesn't honor those boundaries. I got sad and craved people from home, but I also formed new relationships and had the opportunity to meet someone I will never forget. I learned how to handle conflict when people pleasing always ruled my core. I pushed myself to stop thinking about what others want in pursuit of finding what I want for myself.
This experience was not about being reckless in Europe. It really wasn't about school either. It wasn't about fake photos or exaggerated stories, but about leaving things behind. Leaving people that I needed and the ones I would rather be without. It was about sitting with all the things I never wanted to face and being my own "person." Europe was about the "new." For the first time, it was about me and essentially I grew up. I grew up in a way that transcended responsibilities and maturity. It was not about the tangible things, but the priceless, unseen strength I needed to not fall back in my holes. I grew ito someone I can be proud of. Into a more secure, sure of herself human being. Now, I'm just hoping it won't fade as I re-eneter the world that had hid this part of me away.
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