Balancing Act

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Dear Readers,

I hope all is well!

I am nearing my final few days in Hirakata and have decided to discuss something broader today in the hopes that someone might find it useful.

Over the course of this semester in Japan, my perspective on friendships has dramatically shifted. It is fascinating to me how so much can change in such a short amount of time, people who you’d thought would be in your future fade out, unwelcomed characters enter the stage, and a handful of kindred spirits come to be.

Distance is probably the first issue, then time. The fourteen-hour time difference made for a distinct lack of human interaction on days I wasn’t in class. As much as I love meeting new people and having exciting conversations, there is something simple and beautiful in being known without the issue of self-presentation. In many ways, I think my life as an introvert is a balance between the two, my curiosity and my social battery. What this logistical constraint put into perspective was who would make the effort. Who will understand that in order to be a part of your life at this pivotal time they must schedule a calling time or at least be vaguely aware of the time difference and your daily availability. Most especially, I think of my best friend who made the time once a week with me, whose kindness and thoughtfulness kept me strong. It takes effort on your end too, knowing their schedules but also reaching out. An assumption I often found people back home making was that I would be too busy for them, but truthfully, no matter where I go, I can’t imagine leaving the people I love behind and so I had to put in extra effort to show them that they were still a priority. I think this attention to my loved ones helped me maintain and oddly enough grow closer to people despite the distance.

There is also the flipside; you learn who is not worth your time. Some people will not make the effort or reach out. Often, I found myself realizing that even back home, perhaps I’d been making all the effort in some relationships or that people were only interested in talking when they needed a therapist-friend. I think studying abroad was a much-needed wake-up call for me in that way. Your time is limited, both abroad and in general, and having this type of time constraint really put into perspective who should have a seat at the table I’ve set.

Additionally, you may find people you met while abroad aren’t in the business of making permanent friends. I think a lot of people take this semester to find themselves, and often that can lead to some flippancy in terms of making real connections. Some people only are speaking to you not because they are genuinely interested, but because they are lonely, interested in surface-level elements of your identity, or are simply bored. This could be the case anywhere, but I think being in an international dorm highlighted some of these patterns for me. Personally, although I don’t mind a little small talk, I became frustrated with the expectation that I should put in so much effort when these relationships were not ones that fulfilled me or made me feel like I was contributing anything meaningful. Eventually, I realized that what is meant for you will come your way, or at least you’ll know the difference when you feel it deep down. I found being cordial was the best solution to not draining my social battery. We can always be kind, but that doesn’t mean we have to push ourselves to be personable beyond our limits. You deserve rest and friendships that enrich your life and theirs. Additionally, seeking out people you know aren’t worth your efforts just because you are lonely or bored isn’t a good enough reason. Why trade your peace for something that ultimately brings you no real joy?

I think the same can go for group settings when abroad. The instinct among people is to group up when they feel out of place, which is totally understandable and even beneficial, but I think being selective about who is in that circle is crucial. All too often, I heard people ending up in situations where they grouped up in the first few weeks and found out later that the personalities within the group were entirely incompatible. I found myself in a similar situation, and as difficult as it was to break away since I had hoped we could all get along, ultimately my respect for myself and well-being was far more important than entertaining people who haven’t taken the time to know themselves. The study abroad process drudges up so many things we may not like about ourselves. We learn about our lack of knowledge, social skills, or realize how we may need to grow in other ways. I think emotionally is where I grew the most. What does it mean to live as me? What parts of me exist regardless of my circumstance? How does being alone with myself feel? What kind of person, friend, sibling, or child to my parent am I? Am I proud of the reflection I see? What will my future look like? This all goes to say, once I started asking myself these questions more constantly, my standards for who was in my life got a lot higher and made me realize how much energy I’d been putting into connections that didn’t deserve my consideration or kindness. With no comforts, you realize how weak you are but also how much stronger you have the potential to become. Once I set out on that path of self-love and acceptance, engaging or placating incompatible or unkind people was no longer an option for me.

Once I realized my worth, it led me to make new friendships that matter, to let go of old ones, and to more deeply appreciate the genuine connections I already had in my life. Coming here, I was expecting to learn more about my career and figure out how to build on the traveling lifestyle I envisioned, but I think I learned a much more important lesson which was how to be patient and love myself and how to better love the people in my life as a result.

I’m thankful for the friends and loved ones who have supported me and challenged me. I am thankful for the people who taught me lessons and showed me what I am willing to accept into my life. Studying abroad turned my emotional life into somewhat of a balancing act. The weight of what it would mean to lose some friendships compared to others put into perspective who matters in my life. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to learn this.

I know this entry was a little more abstract and emotional, but I think this is a crucial part of the study abroad experience and maybe it might help someone out there who is struggling with maintaining their relationships back home and ones abroad. I want to reassure anyone feeling this way that you are much more capable than you may believe. There are people who love you and people who will love you, and they are worth tending to and waiting for. Spend your effort wisely, your future self will thank you for it!