What being abroad has taught me

Something Australians do really well on social media is let you know what kind of post they’re making before they begin writing (i.e. “Sappy post ahead” or “Incoming salt post”). With that, I’d like to warn you of an incoming sappy post.

No songs inspired me this time. Simply my experiences. The decision to study abroad, like I’ve stated, is one of the best decisions I have ever made. The other day one of my friends who is in India wrote a Facebook status telling us that while she is having a blast she hasn’t found herself and isn’t having the best time of her life while away. It got me to thinking about my experience thus far.

I too have not “found myself” while being away. What I have found is a sense of peace that I didn’t have back home. Being away from my family (blood and school) has taught me that at my core, I haven’t changed as much in the last three years as I thought. One of the really scary things about last year was thinking that I would never be the strong, independent, driven girl I was back in high school. I thought she was gone forever. Turns out, she wasn’t. I’ve realized that one of the reasons I felt so lost was because I was doing so much. While here in Australia I haven’t joined any clubs. I haven’t volunteered for anything. I always thought that those kids who didn’t participate in those ways were loser and wouldn’t have friends. Yes, I said it. I always thought that it was kids who could do it all — school, job, extracurriculars — those were the happiest and the brightest minds. While I’m not saying those kids are not those things, I now understand that that is not the only way to be happy nor be successful in college and in life.

Not being as involved has allowed me to enjoy learning more. I haven’t enjoyed reading so much since I started college and I think it’s because I have the time and the desire to read every single word on the page (now that doesn’t always happen because life is busy but I now I WANT to more than ever). Today, I read for fun. Now, I read for fun more often than the average college student but today was different. I wasn’t reading a silly romance novel to escape my life like I usually do. Today I read to enhance a concept that I’ve been learning in my digital humanities class.

The fact that I wanted to read to understand (it was a suggested text by my professor to the class) further and that I didn’t have to, brought me back to that 16 year old who couldn’t wait to absorb everything (not the slightly cynical and jaded 20 year old of last year who literally just wanted to sleep to escape life). So in this way I learned that those who are applying themselves in different ways instead of joining every club under the sun are not bums by any means and I should be ashamed (and I am) that I ever thought that. I’ve read more and learned more here than I did last semester because my mind is free to soak everything up and free to wander and desire new information.

So the person that I want to be, someone who loves to learn and is passionate about education is not gone. I didn’t “find” her in Australia, but I did reclaim her essence while here. Coupled with my new life experiences, I think I’m a stronger individual today than I was even in high school.

I think the reason I have also enjoyed Australia is not because it’s the most exciting time of my life, but rather a time where I dictate more of what’s going on in my life.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley wrote that in the late 19th century. It is my favorite poem and one I turn to often. I recited it for my graduation speech back in 2013. It’s what’s written outside of my door right now. I’m enjoying Australia because it’s the first time in a really, really long time where I felt those words to be true. The pressures of a small school and a heightened “everyone has to be involved in a club to succeed” culture sometimes takes away one’s agency. It’s amazing the confidence one gets by simply having the choice to take a walk if they so choose because they have the free time to do it. The feeling of not being overwhelmed is an amazing one.
This isn’t me trying to diss my school, however. I love Bowdoin. I love the opportunity I’ve been given to study at a prestigious institution. I just think the way I’ve been approaching it hasn’t allowed me to really enjoy it as much as I know I can.
Now onto other things. Stranger, I recommend going away for anyone who has ever had a broken heart. Whether it’s puppy love or the real deal, it does wonders. At the beginning of this journey I thought that when I go back it’s going to be awful because I have to see certain people and it will be awkward. While to a certain extent it will be awkward, another part of me understands that in finding peace, I have built not walls but a confidence in myself that won’t easily be torn down. So many people saw how unhappy I was last semester and would comment on it. I think when I go back they’ll see a change and it’s not because I will have hardened myself but rather focused on myself so much that there is an enormous level of self love again. I didn’t love myself last semester. I was in a dark and bad, bad place. Finding peace and being more mentally rested has helped me get out of that dark place.
I forgive him. I forgive them both. I forgive them all. Our feelings are so complicated and more often than I care to admit, we don’t understand them ourselves. Sometimes people don’t do things with malicious intent. Sometimes people are simply too worried about their own emotions that they don’t always have the emotions of others in their heads. Heck, I’m an emotional crazy person 9 times out of 10!
This doesn’t mean I’m reaching out though. While it’s important to forgive and to open your heart, one must still recognize those who come to them. My friendship with Michael might be over but it has taught me so much and being here, in the land of peace, I’ve come to terms with it. People come and go in your life and at the end of the day, that’s ok. The fall might be awkward for a second (odds are that someone will propose a floor reunion where we will both be in attendance) or who knows, maybe it won’t because we’ll both be at an understanding that mistakes were made and it’s time to move on. But it won’t be forever. Bowdoin is small but there are ways of not bumping into people.
I’ve got my hometown homies in A and R. I’ve got my ride or die in my sister. I’ve got my boss ass bitches in Hilda and C. I’ve got “the boys” in A and I. The list might be small but being away has showed me that there are people I can count on and I should appreciate that bond more so that the strange friendships with individuals who don’t necessarily understand that I’m kind of a crazy person and take certain things super seriously sometimes.
Good news, I’ve also reclaimed my earlier attitude regarding my body! I’m not all that and a bag of chips but I’m pretty darn close to it. When I wasn’t so focused on how men see me (minus that one week — which I now see may have been a result of me being on my period, to be honest) and more focused on how I see me, I got over that feeling of “ugliness” that that unfortunate incident on Halloween brought. Being my number one fan has really helped me in areas of confidence and self love.
Although, it wasn’t all by myself. None of these developments have been. I think the people I’ve surrounded myself with also played a big part. They’re a chill group of people who are classically Australian: down to earth, not high strung and accepting. They’ve given me the opportunity to meet new people and experience new thing but they have also given me the chance to find my own peace which has been really nice.
Lastly, I am more of an outdoorsy person than even I realized. I love walks and hiking. I’m going to do much more of that when I go home.

Love, peace and happiness.

-M

p.s. if I had to pick a song it would be A New Day Has Come by Celine Dion. Cliche but you gotta love it, no?

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