It’s difficult to summarize five months abroad in few brief sentences. When my friends and family ask me how the semester in England was I tell them it was great, that I got to travel a lot, meet so many new people and I learned a lot about other cultures and myself. I’m so lucky to be able to say that I have friends from all over the world now. I even got to stay with a few of them in their homes. I traveled to eight different countries and saw landmarks I thought I’d only ever see in textbooks and on the internet. I assimilated to British culture and by the end of the semester I found myself slightly confused when someone would interrupt me and ask if I was American because I forgot I had an accent. But here I won’t reflect on the adventures I had or the places I saw or describe the people I met. Instead I will reflect on a few personal moments that I realized changes in myself.
Participating in a solo exchange instead of a group program allowed me to reach a new level of independence. Of course there were advisors at both universities to help me if I needed it, but I was on my own. Two months into the semester I admitted in my journal, “I have surprised myself with how comfortable I feel here even though I’m here by myself.” I had to step out of my comfort zone and introduce myself to so many people. At first, it was like dating, but for new friends. I became more confident asking questions if I encountered something new or culturally different. I could see how well I was handling my new freedom and I was overcome with this feeling that I could do anything. It felt so empowering.
Another personal quality I improved while abroad was my patience. Whilst traveling, things don’t always go as planned and traveling involves waiting in a lot of queues (the British word for line). Not only did I have to be patient as I traveled from country to country, but I also had to be patient with myself. I was experiencing cultures different than my own and I had to learn and adjust. I couldn’t expect that everything would come naturally to me. Sometimes I made mistakes, but that’s okay because I learned from them.
One particular moment that really stood out to me occurred when I arrived in Berlin. I was traveling alone and I had to take a train from the airport into the city where my friend lived. I made a mistake and got on the wrong train because the train lines were very similar in color on the map. As soon as I realized I was going in the wrong direction I got off at the next stop. The stop was in a rural area and there wasn’t anyone around, the sun was setting, I was in a new country, unable to speak German and I had no way to contact my friend. Usually I would start to panic, and I almost did, but I told myself that getting emotional wouldn’t be helpful because the only person who could get me out of the situation was me. I took a deep breath and used the map to find the best route to get to where I needed to go. Two hours after landing, I had made it to my friend’s flat safe and sound. I was so proud of myself for not shutting down despite the situation I got myself into and I figured it out on my own.
Studying abroad this semester was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I am so glad that I worked hard for the opportunity to go. The world is a beautiful place. I cannot wait to explore more of it. The places you visit and the people you meet are not the only things that make study abroad worthwhile; it’s the things you learn about yourself and the personal changes you experience too. Some of the changes I have highlighted here may seem minor, but overall I feel significantly different. I know that I have returned a more mature, independent and confident woman.
-Alexandra Mullen, University of East Anglia Exchange