I don’t know how to answer the questions you’ll ask me about being abroad for four months. You’ll ask if it was amazing, and then you will ask me if I miss it. And I will say there are a few things that I miss in particular. -Sam Rust
In January 2010 I left the United States for one of my greatest adventures… study abroad. I was going to Valencia, Spain to live with a Spanish woman in her early 60s and another American student for five months. I had never left the country before. I had never even been on an airplane as an adult. I was thrusting myself out into the world and I didn’t know what to expect. When my dad dropped me off at O’Hare I was a hot mess of terror and exhilaration. Here is a letter to my 20 year old self about to leave for the adventure of a lifetime from my current self a 27 year old woman living life abroad again.
You are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Not many people are able to experience life in another country. At times it is going to be scary, maybe even lonely. Other times it will be joyful and exciting. Enjoy all of it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a period of time that you will never be able to return to. Here is some advice from an older and somewhat wiser version of yourself.
- Don’t hesitate! You have a tendency to hang back and observe when you are in new situations. Sometimes you accidentally wait too long before diving in and moments pass you by. This is not the time to hang back. Life doesn’t wait for you to be ready. You just have to go. Putting yourself out there can be scary but it is very rewarding. Don’t hesitate, jump in full force.
- Speak! The only way to improve language skills is by using the language. When people who aren’t native speakers speak English, you help them out. The only way to get better at Spanish is to immerse yourself and speak. Speak as much as you can. Ask questions about the language bits that are confusing to you. Your Spanish will improve greatly but don’t forget to keep working on those skills once you are back home.
- It’s ok to miss home- but it’s also ok not to miss home! They say that everyone goes through a period of homesickness while studying abroad. You never really get homesick while on this journey and that is ok too! There might be times that you even feel guilty about not missing home. Here’s the thing, when you are in love with your life you don’t have a lot of time to miss home. It means that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in the universe. That is a wonderful place to be in life.
- Venture out! Don’t be afraid to venture out on your own. It is sometimes scary to do things by yourself at first but it is also liberating. If you want to go explore a city- go explore it. You’ll miss out many adventures in life if you only do what everyone else wants to do instead of doing what you want.
- Reflect and journal! You are going to take a journal with you when you go to Spain. For the love of god write in it! Your family and friends wrote notes of love and encouragement to you in the front of it. You are supposed to use it to document your journeys. I will just let you in on the secret now- you didn’t write anything down and now you regret it.
- Accept that it changes you! Travel changes you in so many ways. Seriously google travel quotes and you will see. Once you get a taste for it you are forever changed. You will never be able to go back to the girl you used to be. This experience is going to spark something inside of you. It is going to ignite new passions and ambitions and set you on a new life path. You will dare to dream bigger dreams after this experience.
- Everyone won’t want to hear your stories when you get back! People are very excited for you while you are gone but not everyone will want to hear the stories when you return. You will have gone on an amazing adventure and people back home did not. You have changed in tremendous ways and it may be hard for people that weren’t on the journey with you to understand. Share your travels and experiences while you are away. People will love to hear about what you are up to while you’re away. It’s ok that your experiences have changed you and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Please, please, please enjoy every single moment. This is an extremely unique and important time in your life. Start trying to figure out who you are, what you want and where you belong in the universe. Once you get on the plane, life will never be the same again and this is a good thing. Do what feels right in your soul.