Out of all the lectures and cultural experiences I have had while being here in Ireland, I can very easily pinpoint the single most important lesson I have learned through my time abroad: how to be alone.
I didn’t learn this because I felt alone. On the contrary—the friends I have made while being here are some of the best I’ve ever had and there hasn’t been a single day where my smile and laughter haven’t been completely genuine. I have people here; I have a support system…I have a family.
What I mean is that I’m no longer afraid of my own company. I’m no longer scared of doing things alone. I believe wholeheartedly that it is this experience that has taught me these lessons.
The obvious thing that you learn when you’re abroad is how to do things on your own. You don’t have your parents, your old friends, your normal surroundings…basically, whatever your usual comfort blanket is in stressful situations, it’s gone. So when you have problems at the bank or with a visa, you learn how to handle it yourself, because you have to. It’s an invaluable lesson, and learning it while in a foreign country teaches it to you ten times better than any other environment.
In my experience, though, the bigger lesson is in simply being alone.
I learned how to do this by making my own adventures for myself when others didn’t have the time. I went into the city alone, I went on wandering walks off campus, I sat by myself in crowded places and I just watched. I wasn’t too shy to sit down at a café and drink a tea by myself. I wasn’t too scared to venture out of familiar territory and make my own discoveries. Some of it made me look local, some of it all but shouted TOURIST, but all of it secured a belief in myself that I hadn’t had before.
Starting from scratch forces you to build a life that is all your own. You get to find your own favorite places and your own favorite people. You introduce yourself. You keep in touch, or you don’t. There’s no one and nothing to tell you which decision is best. You don’t have connections or friends swaying your decisions. You don’t have allegiances to anyone. You don’t have promises to fulfill. All you have is you. You’re creating your own environment, from the people you choose to spend time with to the things you decide to spend your time doing. This is a kind of freedom that often doesn’t come when living at home. Or, when it does, we sometimes don’t take advantage of it.
I’m not underestimating the advantages of roots. I love and am excited to get back to the life that I have in the US. My time in Ireland has simply given me the gift of comfort within myself. It’s by far the biggest thing that has come from my time abroad, and why I think that studying abroad is such a valuable thing to do. It can be so easy to just follow when you are surrounded by familiarity.
The unknown will allow you to be a leader, if you let it. (Let it.)
Amy Rubenstein is a junior journalism major in the Honors Tutorial College. She is currently studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Follow her travels on twitter @amyelisabethx.