As I boarded the plane last year at my connection in Munich on the way to my study abroad location in Seville, Spain, I squinted suspiciously at the crowd around me. My stomach threatening to flip inside out, I committed myself to the task of examining my fellow passengers, many of whom were around my age and laden with bulging carry-ons like mine. How many of them were study abroad students? Would any of them be in my program? And most importantly, did they seem nice?
It’s hard to judge a stranger’s character from a wordless airport encounter, especially when that stranger is sporting a giant hoodie, a messy bun, and the heavy eyelids of a traveler who’s been up one too many hours. But, I sure did try — the fate of my social life for the next few months was at stake, after all.
It’s been a year now since I returned home from my semester in Spain. The other night, I had a Zoom call with four dear friends I’d met abroad. For an hour, we spoke fondly of weekend trips across Europe and nightly visits to our favorite local bar, swapped life updates, and marveled at the pandemonium that was 2020. In the silence after we said our goodbyes until the next virtual meeting, I thought about how grateful I was to have made such great friends abroad.
|Me with one of my newfound friends post-study abroad.|
Part of me wishes I could’ve traveled back in time to comfort that queasy, fresh-faced past version of myself on the plane to Seville. “You’ll find friends,” I’d say. “Really good ones — so good you’ll cry on the sidewalk in front of your homestay the night you have to part ways.”
But a bigger part of me is grateful for the stomachache. Past me pushed herself to do a really scary thing — to leave her home country and boyfriend for the first time for a place where she knew absolutely no one. And I’m better now because of it.
Because even though my friends from abroad are now scattered all over the country at their respective colleges, I have new friends to share my life with — people I would never have met if I hadn’t gotten used to thrusting myself into sometimes-awkward social situations abroad.
|Two of the friends who have made this past semester in the States amazing.|
I’ve developed a tolerance for discomfort — Spain made sure of that. By the time I returned to the States, putting myself out there and making new friends wasn’t such a foreign concept. For a long time before I went abroad, I’d felt dissatisfied with my social life, spending most of my time with my boyfriend. Though I love him dearly, I’d sensed a need to break out of the new-relationship rut and form some new connections.
Although COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in virtually everyone’s social life, this past year I’ve learned to put myself out there in pandemic-precaution-friendly ways. I’ve made some of the best friends of my college experience since returning from Spain.
I recently took the last final exam of my undergraduate career, and I can confidently say that studying abroad was the best thing I did in my three and a half years in college. Not only did it make fall 2019 amazing, but it also made the semesters after it a whole lot more exciting. And for that, I have to thank my former self for sitting in the nausea, sucking it up, and making some friends.
Shannon Gage is a CEA Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the Fall 2019 semester. She is a graduate of Liberty University.
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