I’m back in the United States now. There are times when that’s still not real to me yet; you could say that my head carried some of the fog home from Edinburgh and it hasn’t quite cleared yet. In the midst of the readjustment and the holiday season, however, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned from my past few months abroad. Here are ten things I’ve learned about travel, about myself, and about life, in no particular order!
- I love discovering new places more than I ever realized I did. I found out that the walking and navigating aspect of travel is really fun for me; I like learning where things are and feeling like I’ve at least sort of figured out how to get around a city before I leave it. I never traveled to a place I didn’t like while I was abroad. There were things to enjoy everywhere I went.
Like other study abroad students, I feel that this time away has given me the travel bug. It will be hard not traveling as much in the spring, but I also think it has expanded my horizons as I think about my future. Seeing new places helped me see new possibilities for my own life and helped me see how much I like traveling.
- I would always rather travel with other people than travel alone. My 4-day sojourn in London taught me that. I love being along for shorter periods of time, like my last morning in Paris, for instance, but I do not enjoy being alone for extended trips. It shaped how I traveled for the remainder of my time abroad and I’m glad of that.
- I love living near hills. This is a bit of a random one, but it’s true! To me, living near a big hill or a mountain feels like having something to rest your back against. I might feel connected to hilly places this way because my family has roots in the mountains. Ideally, though, I would love to live in a city like Edinburgh that has both hills and sea so close together.
- Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but it’s not the end of the world. When I think about the tickets I messed up, the things I forgot, the transatlantic flight I missed, and so many other things, I am surprised that I made it home. More often than not, though, I found that there were things I could do to clean up the mess I made. That doesn’t mean that my mistakes didn’t cause me trouble, but I think that I learned more about being a responsible adult through my mistakes. When you’re on your own, you do have to clean up your mess yourself—but it’s more doable than you might think.
- Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but you survive. Nope, I didn’t accidentally make the same point twice. This is about the things that happen that you can’t control. So many things happened that were abroad that were beyond my control, whether that had to do with sickness, relationships, or deaths. Life hit me hard while I was away. But, every day, the sun came up. I saw over and over again that the circumstances of my life do not stop the world from spinning. They make life painful, they make it a struggle, but they don’t have to define everything about you. For me, this meant giving each day to God and asking Him to help me through. Today, by the grace of God, I’m still here.
- You can go through the most difficult time you’ve ever gone through and still come out of it with amazing memories. Even as I look back through my various journal entries and blog posts and clearly see how much pain I went through, I also know that I legitimately enjoyed so much about this past semester. I know that it was absolutely worth it for me to go abroad. The people I met and the places I got to explore were truly unforgettable, and I feel so privileged to have gotten to experience all of this.
- Travel means encountering the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll be happy with the results, and sometimes you won’t be. For example, I was pleasantly surprised when I hardly ran into any rain during my travels through the stereotypically rainy U.K., but a little disappointed when my trips to Italy and France weren’t much warmer than Edinburgh (and sometimes substantially colder!). You might enjoy some major tourist sites more or less than you expected to. That’s all okay—it’s part of what transforms your travel from a mere trip into an adventure.
- You can find family all over the world. These might be people with whom you share a common background or interest, or it might just be people who are going through something similar to you with whom you find understanding. Either way, these people are the ones who bring warmth and light to your journey once you find them.
9. Feel what you’re feeling and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for that. I’ve talked a lot about this, but I’m still learning the importance of this now as I go through culture shock returning to the US. Wherever you might be, don’t tell yourself what you’re supposed to be feeling or not feeling; think, talk, create, whatever helps you to process and understand what you’re feeling, rather than become desensitized or let emotions build up. That will only hurt you and keep you from growing!
10. Travel makes some things less scary than they were before and does the reverse with other things. Before studying abroad, I was much more scared of traveling alone or living in a city where I didn’t know anyone than I am now. So many of the logistical things that intimidated me so much before no longer do so. To explain the scarier things, though, I’ll tell you a story.
On my last morning of my trip to Paris, I realized something. I had decided to go to Notre Dame before flying back to Edinburgh. I had already been inside once, but it was just so beautiful, and it seemed like a good place for sorting through all the things I was feeling on that particular morning. I walked alone through the streets, over the bridges, past the cotton candy clouds, until I got to the imposing cathedral. As I sat inside, it hit me: I’m less scared of staying here, in a country where I don’t even speak their language, than I am of going back home.
It seemed so strange. I could never have seen myself saying something like that just a few short months ago, and why should I be so scared to go home? Well, there were a lot of reasons for that—I was terrified of how I might feel while readjusting to life at home—but so much of that fear was because I’m not the same person I was when I left the United States back in September. I have become someone new. This new person is more independent while simultaneously knowing how much she needs people; she’s not afraid of traveling alone, she’s experienced so many new things, and she’s been through the refining fire of heartbreak. That morning, much of what weighed on my mind was how to be this new person in the old, familiar places, around people I already know. Would I be able to be a new person and still keep the friendships I had before? I knew that this was something many study abroad students face, but in that moment it still felt impossible.
I sat in the cathedral for a few more minutes, soaking in the atmosphere of the sacred space. I pulled out my phone to read a little bit of Psalm 84, which talks about the sanctuary of God’s presence and how blessed those people are who trust in Him even through the difficult times of their journey. What came to me then was a glimmer of peace: a sense that, while it would be difficult, I wouldn’t be alone. I recalled my belief that the same God to whom this awe-inspiring cathedral was built would actually be with me all the way across the ocean. If anyone can handle the impossible, it would be Him. As I walked back out into the rosy morning, I felt the strength I had drawn from what I believed to be God’s presence in that place stay with me, pushing me forward and into the unknown. With Him beside me, I can face the old and the new, and there’s no telling how far I’ll go.
That’s all for my life lessons, folks! We’re coming to the end of this final blog post. If you want to hear a playlist of all the songs from my blog post titles this semester—because all but one of my titles were from songs—you can listen to that here! (Good on you if you caught on to the song titles trope already.)And now, I’ll close this post with a few pictures from my last days in Edinburgh, where I took pictures of some things I would miss about the city. I loved living here so much and will definitely be back someday soon.
Thank you for being a part of my journey this semester! I hope you’ve been encouraged to explore, to feel, and to appreciate the people and places around you, whether you’re at home or abroad.
As the Scots would say—cheers!