Hello everyone! It’s a double feature this week—I’ll be making two posts about two different aspects of my life here in Edinburgh. I wanted to start with a pretty personal one that I’ve been mulling over the most these past few weeks.
This week, I want to talk about loneliness.
I heard about study abroad experiences from so many of my peers before coming here. They would tell me about all the amazing places they got to see, the friends they made, the good food, and so on. I felt so sure that any person on earth who got to have this type of experience couldn’t be anything but extremely happy. Well, I found out that I was wrong.
For all the people who told me about their study abroad experiences, I can’t think of a single person who talked about experiencing loneliness—or at least not anyone who really talked about it. (Maybe my sample was just skewed but that’s what I found.) A few people mentioned it here and there as if it was something they experienced early on but that melted away as they saw the sights and started settling in. That just has not been my experience. I came in anticipating to really miss my family and my friends, particularly for the first few weeks, but I expected my feelings to stabilize a bit after that. Instead, I actually did not feel homesick at all for the first week and a half. I was so busy doing things and making sure that I had food in my kitchen and a towel for my shower that I hardly had time to stop and think. Then, after I got my bearings, I had time to notice that dull ache in my heart. Since then, as much as I have been grateful that I’m here studying abroad and getting to see and do amazing things, I have had a lot of days where I’ve felt deeply unhappy. I’ve found that my feelings have been less stable and harder to control, and that has frustrated me to no end. I’ve thought long and hard about what loneliness really means for me.
When I went to the Launch London retreat with InterVarsity a few weeks ago, my leader Sarah Schilling identified one of the biggest types of loneliness that I was experiencing. She talked about “not feeling known by the people around you.” No matter how awesome the people here are, you always have to build from the ground up with them. You don’t have any shared history, so you have to explain all your interests, your passions, all the things that make you, you, to each person you really want to befriend. I think this struggle is uniquely difficult for introverts like myself who crave deep conversation and deep connections with just a few people and don’t like small talk; out of necessity, you make small talk to explain who you are to all the new people you’re meeting, and it leaves you feeling drained and like there’s something important missing in your heart.
I didn’t write this post to complain about being abroad or to blame anyone else for how I’m feeling right now—far from it. I wrote this post so that I could tell other study abroad students or people who are considering studying abroad what my experience of loneliness has been like. So, here are a few truths that I’ve been trying to speak into my own heart recently. I hope they help you too if you need it!
- It’s okay that you’re not happy all the time. It doesn’t mean that you’re ungrateful, that you’re failing at studying abroad, or that there’s anything wrong with you. It just means you’re a person with normal feelings who is far away from home.
- It’s okay that you’re not quite as productive or focused as you might be at home. You’re still adjusting and getting your bearings, even after being in a new place for weeks. Just take each task one at a time and don’t feel bad if you’re a little (or a lot) less organized than normal.
- It’s okay to feel lost or overwhelmed in general. You’re in a new country! Be gracious with yourself. Take a deep breath, make yourself a cup of tea, and give yourself some time to go back to whatever feels like home for you. Talk to friends and family, watch an American TV show, listen to a favorite song from home, see if you can find a decent American cheeseburger anywhere or make a familiar dish. For me, one of the things that always helps is going back to my faith; it has truly been a solid rock in a sea of unfamiliar faces.
- It’s okay to take little longer about doing it, but once you’ve accepted what you’re feeling right now, make sure you get back out there. Don’t let your feelings stand too much in the way of all that studying abroad has to offer. Your new friends might even be feeling some of the same things you are and you might be able to help each other!
If you’re feeling any of these things right now, please know that you’re not alone. I certainly don’t have this figured out, but I’m working through this challenge every day and I believe that I will be a stronger person at the end of it.
And now, here’s some pictures of me with friends so my mom and dad know that I’ve gone out and done things. 🙂
Till next time!