If you choose to study abroad, even for a semester, and you go without any connections in your desired destination, know that you will be alone. And that’s okay.
It may feel horrible when you first start orientation, but you will slowly learn to be comfortable in your solitude and settle in with a comfortable routine and good group of friends. Or you may feel overjoyed with the romantic sense of new possibility waiting in the unknown shadows of this foreign land and come to realize, once the initial haze of newness evaporates, that the internal struggles you’ve dealt with at home will always follow you. Now you’re alone, in a foreign country, completely confronted with the raw you it is so easy to repress when you’re lost in the chaotic career search and academic setting. It’s a scary life lesson, but a necessary one that study abroad will no doubt catalyze. Don’t be afraid to be alone and open yourself up to the possibilities of your life.
Oscar Wilde said, “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” In my opinion, this is the only way one can grow and truly confront the realities of one’s personality and insecurities.
I’ve been trying to attend as many events as I am interested in alone while I’m in Prague. For example, none of my friends from my program were interested in taking a weekly yoga class with me, and I knew I had to keep up some sort of physical activity while drinking all the glorious Czech beer, so I signed up on my own to attend a class in an unknown place with a bunch of strangers. I would never usually step out of my comfort zone in the U.S. Why would I? I have a group of friends who are interested in the same things I am and are willing to join in activities with me. Studying in a foreign place where you don’t know anyone will force you to learn to be comfortable putting yourself out there and into unknown situations.
My parents came to visit during the roughest point of my semester, when all I was looking for was some sense of comfort I had at home. At this stage, it wasn’t so much that I felt homesick, it was more that the thrill of a new place (the “Honeymoon Phase”) had dissolved and I was stuck trying to find a comfortable routine in a place where my life path was not.
My family and I travelled to Vienna on Thursday; they left on Friday, leaving me alone for two days in a gigantic city. Granted, not technically alone because a group from CIEE was travelling there that weekend too, but I did spend a day completely by myself, stumbling onto hidden Christmas markets, getting lost and using my directional and map reading skills to get back to my hostel late at night. This occurred two days after a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with my family. I can now add that I am thankful for the experience of being alone. During that Saturday of solitude in Vienna, I became even more confident in my independence, something that just seems to keep solidifying as I continue to study and travel here. I took the metro to my desired destinations, saw countless museum exhibits on my own time, lounged in a café/bookstore/record store on the hip side of the city I just happened to find myself in, and felt oriented and comfortable in Vienna without the help of a guide or the support of friends—all while not understanding a hint of German, or communicating very well with Viennese strangers.
Vienna is probably right at the top of my list with Berlin for favorite cities in Europe. It feels more Westernized in the center (like Berlin) but there are some really unique areas to explore if you are willing to get a little lost. Vienna’s main attractions this time of the year are the Christmas Markets (see below) that offer hot, spiced wine and typical Viennese desserts as you wander around searching for the perfect gift for a friend or family member. I would also characterize Vienna by it’s impeccable art scene, almost greater so than Berlin (probably because it was Vienna art week that week).
Some pics from the trip:
The more I travel on my own, the more I learn about myself and find comfort in being alone. As tough as it can be, being alone is okay.