While abroad allows you to meet new people from all walks of life, I believe that the most important person you will meet during this period is yourself.
Last week I was talking to a couple of friends I have made in the program, the type of people that you hang out with and hope the friendship will last, but are also uncertain that it will. One of the woman in the group made a comment, as she reflected upon her travels and it has been on my mind since. She talked about how you will make your best friends during your time abroad, simply because while you are abroad you are most vulnerable. You are vulnerable, because you do not know if you will ever see these people again, so why not share? You are vulnerable, because experiencing new cultures makes you want to share more about yours. You are vulnerable, because you have time to reflect as you travel, unlike at other points in life. I thought about this and thought about my own vulnerability. I thought about how through this experience I have become more vulnerable with myself, more than anyone else. Here are some ways I have done so….
- I have given myself time to reflect upon my day.
I am terrible at keeping a diary. When I was in elementary school I tried to keep a diary, but it felt more like a task. Sometimes I would even predict what would happen the next day, just to get ahead and not have to worry about it. Due to the stress it caused me, I have not tried journaling since then. However, FEA has held me accountable to journal. The FEA journals give me a platform to talk about what has been on my mind. All the journal topics I have written about are ideas that were on my mind for a while, writing about them helps me let go of them or be at peace with them at least. It makes me feel like I did something about these thoughts. I have also adopted others reflection methods. Everyday I go through the pictures I took that day and I separate them into pictures of me, pictures of sites, and pictures of food. This simple habit allows me to look at how my day went and remember what went well and what I could improve on. I also reflect upon my spending. Though this seems unusual, looking at receipts of the day not only helps me stay on budget, but it highlights some things that made me happy throughout the day. I have plenty of chocolate croissant receipts, maybe even too many.
2. I read.
I do not know when was the last time I had picked up a book I wanted to read, before being abroad. Back at home I usually scroll on my phone right before going to bed, here I read, even if it is a few pages. Reading helps me take my mind off of my worries, which is quite helpful right before going to bed which was a time I habitually use for rumination. Putting time aside for pleasure reading reminds me of when I was a kid and who does not love being taken back to their childhood?
3. I let my family and friends back home know that I love them.
Though I should let my family and loved ones know that I love them always, I typically do not do this. Being abroad has helped me come to terms with this and do it more often. I recognize how hard it is for them to not be close to me, but I like to think it is even more difficult for me. I tend to be “tough” and not let people into my emotions, but being abroad has broken this a bit. I have realized how much I depend on these people and they deserve to know how grateful I am for them.
4. I am mindful of my body and emotions.
Back at home, I tend to go throughout my day and am so rushed that I pay little attention to my body’s needs. Here I have a 45 minute walk to class. I use that time to think about how I feel. I have to cross over the Guadalquivir River and this sight is perfect for reflection. I am also taking a flamenco course. Through this course I have come to realize how tense I am and to work to get rid of this feeling. I let my body loose and laugh at myself when my legs and hands just do not coordinate — instead of getting frustrated.
5. I dress up.
European fashion is on a whole other level. You do not see leggings often or gym shoes. Though my closet is limited, I have tried to get really creative with it. I choose differently jewelry everyday and make sure everything I wear fits together. I usually do not have the time to do this back home, though I would love to. Dressing up makes me feel more confident, prepared, and put together. It makes me feel like I am putting on a good impression of myself.
6. I take myself out on dates.
This may sound corny, but personal dates are so enjoyable. Sitting at a restaurant by yourself takes time to get accustomed to, but once you become comfortable with it, it becomes something to look forward to. I love not having to arrange plans with others (I promise I am social), it makes planning really easy. Personal dates gives me something to look forward to, it is sacred time that no one else can book into, because who would want to “second-wheel” on a personal date?!
Being abroad allows you to not only learn about other cultures and meet other people, but it is a great time to get to know yourself!