Alyssa Wend ’24
In the weeks leading up to my departure to London for my semester abroad, I kept hearing variations of the phrase, “this is going to be a life changing experience,” from my friends and family. While I was grateful for their enthusiasm, I began to dread this phrase and had no idea what “life changing” was supposed to look like for me. I could already feel the pressure building to come back affirming their statements.
From general accounts of people who have studied abroad, I knew that the unique experience is one that can shape people. I watched a close friend come back from her study abroad experience with a new confidence that made her noticeably different. I admired this, but I wasn’t sure how she got there.
When I was finally leaving for London, I felt a mix of fear and optimism. I am not usually the biggest fan of change, but all I could think about was how lucky I was to have this experience and I wondered how I was going to make the most of it.
During my first week in London, I committed to making the most out of each day: I packed my schedule with exploring the city with new friends. While this was an amazing experience, it was also incredibly draining.
As an introvert, I could feel myself already becoming overwhelmed by the amount of effort I was investing in putting myself out there, trying to make connections with people, and doing as much as I could with my time. By the end of the first week, I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep this up the entire semester.
When I couldn’t find a way to stop moving, life made the decision for me two weeks into my arrival. After testing positive for COVID-19, the sudden transition from my hectic first week to isolation was a stark change.
Part of me was glad to rest and recharge, but another part of me couldn’t stop thinking about the time I was losing and how I could make up for it later. Even when doing nothing, I felt the self-imposed pressure to keep searching for what would make this time my “life-changing experience.”
I began thinking in shareable moments, judging the worthiness of an experience based on whether it was worthy of a story to my parents to prove that studying abroad was worth it. This mindset had me unknowingly categorizing moments as either “ordinary” or “extraordinary.” I found myself discounting the weeks where I felt like I was doing nothing but classes even while all of my experiences were not “ordinary” by virtue of being in another country.
I didn’t realize that this mindset was hindering my experience until I began just waiting for these extraordinary moments. A month into studying abroad, I felt like I was doing nothing. I had settled in my routine: going to class, doing homework, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and occasionally hanging out with friends.
These weren’t bad weeks, but I wasn’t allowing myself to feel satisfied with what I was doing. It somehow didn’t feel good enough. Instead, I only shared what the next extraordinary thing I was planning on doing.
After these weeks, my next exciting experience finally came – traveling with my friends to Switzerland for our spring break. We planned to traverse the country in one week with activities scheduled for each day. This surely was going to be a trip worthy of telling my family when I got back, and it was – just not for the reason I initially thought.
In this week-long trip full of excitement, one of my favorite moments ended up being one of the most ordinary ones: sitting on a bench alone in a park just thinking. While I had great stories about the rest of my trip to tell my parents, I had a newfound appreciation for these more peaceful moments.
I have loved exploring the city and being able to travel, but I have often found just as much or even more joy in what I previously considered ordinary moments. Experiences I know I will cherish and look back on include walking in the park next to campus or sitting with my friends in one of their dorm rooms. While these are things I could experience at home, I have learned to view these moments as just as life-changing as others.
As I reflect on my first two months abroad, I suddenly feel less afraid to share my experience with my friends and family at home. While there isn’t a single moment I can point to and say “that changed my life,” I can confidently say that I have found value in every experience, extraordinary or mundane.
Image Source: Alyssa Wend ’24