Before I left for my two and a half month-long study abroad in England in September, I didn't know what it meant to truly live. For as long as I could remember, I had just been going through the motions, day by day, doing what I had to do to be considered "successful" by my peers. And that's the thing - I didn't care how I felt or if what I was doing was making me happy; I was more concerned about getting the approval from people whose opinions really shouldn't have mattered.
Everyone thought I was crazy for studying abroad in a foreign country without knowing anyone. It wasn't professor-led and I didn't know any other students from my university doing the program, so on September 28, 2018, I boarded my first international flight and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.
It was about a nine-hour flight including my layover in Iceland, and by the time I arrived in Manchester (a little over an hour from my university), I was exhausted but excited to see where I would be living and who I would be living with.
Prior to moving to England, I imagined it being another version of America, only with better accents. I was wrong; it was better.
England is very similar to America but it's also vastly different. There wasn't a language barrier like I would have experienced if I were studying abroad in Italy for a semester, per se, but their vocabulary is broader and their slang words are different. Besides that, the food was different and I nearly got hit by a car every time I crossed the street because they drive on the left side of the road. I could go on and go about how much of a culture shock it was for me, but then again, it wasn't really a culture shock at all because it felt like home almost immediately.
For the first 18 years of my life, until I moved away to college (which wasn't far from home at all so it really didn't make a difference), I lived in the same town and grew up with the same people. I went to a diverse high school and a university with a large population of international students, but I never realized how sheltered I was until I started my study abroad at Lancaster University.
I lived in a co-ed flat with about 30 other people. We occupied an entire floor and shared two kitchens and guys shared a toilet (in England, bathrooms are called toilets; no, 20 guys didn't actually share one toilet) and showers and girls shared a toilet and showers. Besides the fact that I had never lived with guys, I had also never lived with people from so many different countries. I lived with people from nine different countries including my own: the United States, England, Wales, India, Romania, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Mexico. I absolutely loved my flat and my flatmates. They played such a huge role in my study abroad experience and they are one of the main reasons why I loved living in England so much. I met the most genuine and welcoming people in England and every day I was there, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to be surrounded by so amazing people.
When people ask me how my study abroad was, I can easily sum it up in just eight words: "It was the best experience of my life." I wish I knew a better way to describe it and explain just how amazing it was, but those eight words are the best I can come up with most of the time because the entire experience left me speechless; it was just that, the best experience of my life.
I had wanted to travel my entire life, and I'm not just talking another state or even the Caribbean, which I had done multiple times; I wanted to travel overseas and see another part of the world and experience another culture. I'll admit, living in England wasn't as much of a culture shock as I would have experienced in another country, but it was different and I had to adjust and adapt.
I did a lot of research before leaving for England and learned that a lot of people who travel to another country for a long period of time never try and adjust and adapt to the way of life in that particular country; they're so set in their upbringing and ways of life that it's difficult, which at times it was and I missed certain things about America, but I dove in head first and I believe that's also why I had such an amazing experience.
It's funny, because in the beginning, quite often I would say "football" when talking about soccer and "secondary school" when talking about high school, among other things. When I did that, people would often respond with things like, "Oh, you mean soccer" or "Oh, you mean high school." And they were right, but I was trying to adjust to their language and their slang words because I was in their country. The exciting part about studying abroad is getting to experience another culture and feel like you're a part of it. There were quite a few times where I would do things, say things or eat things that were familiar to me because I missed certain things about America - like the time I spent $8 on a box of Lucky Charms because I missed sugary, unhealthy cereal - but for the most part, I adapted to life in England and I absolutely loved it.
Studying abroad taught me how to live because it taught me that there is so much more to life than just working and going to school, two things I had done for years. Studying abroad taught me that I am capable of literally anything I set my mind to and that I am more independent and brave than I ever gave myself credit for. I conquered the streets of Paris, France alone during the Diesel riots (despite the fact that I barely speak a word of French), I took a seven-hour train ride to Plymouth, England, stayed in a hostel by myself and ventured around the city by myself, I tried new foods and learned new words, I fell in love with British fashion, I said "yes" to things that I would have been too afraid to do or try back in the states, I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about British culture, I spent less time stressing-out about things that didn't matter and spent loads of time traveling and having fun (I got some studying in, not to worry) and I did everything I've ever wanted to do and then some.
During my two and a half month-long study abroad in England, I traveled to five countries and eighteen cities. Traveling and being an international student taught me the true meaning of independence, patience, faith and living life to the fullest. In those moments where I was alone and things weren't going my way (like getting stranded in the streets of Paris, France twice), I didn't freak out or start assuming the worst, I absorbed every moment and just figured it out (or in my case, I bought a crêpe and watched the Eiffel Tower for an hour and a half while I waited for the riots to simmer down and the metro trains to start running again). While you can't plan for the unexpected in any situation, YOU get to decide how to handle the situation.
I miss England terribly, but I miss all of the genuine, amazing people I met even more. For the first time in such a long time, I felt accepted and I felt this unexplainable joy. I met "my people" and I had to leave them which was so difficult, but my entire study abroad changed my life and my mindset and for that, I am forever grateful. I'm not sure when I'll be able to visit England again, but I'll be back eventually. That's a promise.
To the place that welcomed me with open arms and truly became my home, thank you for everything, but most importantly, thank you for teaching me how to live - not just exist, but truly live. To the people who welcomed me with open arms, made me feel so loved and accepted and became my family, thank you for making me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.