While I’m not totally afraid of change, I also don’t think I’ve ever lived my life fully confronting it. For the majority of my life, I hadn’t ever had to face this kind of violent change that throws your stability for a loop and makes you question the things you value and why you value them. I lived in the same place for my entire childhood and I went to college in the same state. I never really left my comfort zone, if you know what I mean.
I’m so happy I studied abroad for that reason. I could (and probably will) write a post on all of the ways that it’s impacted me, but I think the most important thing it did was throw me into a totally new situation for an extended period of time and force me to kind of “make it on my own.” I didn’t have anyone as a crutch to lean on and I didn’t have my parents nearby whenever an issue occurred. In a very real sense, I was on my own for the first time.
I don’t know what the catalyst was or how the process occurred, but this cataclysmic shift simultaneously shifted who I am as a person. I’m more adventurous now, in the sense that I’m willing to go off on my own and have new experiences either with new people or simply on my own. I take more risks (mostly the good kind) and I do borderline crazy things like get a hip tattoo just to say I got tatted in England. I Now more than ever, I’m aware of my strengths and weaknesses and I know how they affect the way I live my life. And most importantly, I have a clearer sense of myself and what I want to do with my life.
The transition wasn’t some perfectly smooth one, and I had to go through a lot of crazy to get where I am now. In a sense I think the transformation started even before I left – I had just finished two semesters that had been some of the hardest and most stressful ones I’d experienced. I was taking more than a full courseload, working two separate jobs, trying to maintain friendships and other connections, and generally just spreading myself way too thin on things that may or may not have been worth the effort.
I’ve realized that I deserve better than the stress and insanity that I was putting myself through, and I like to think I now have a better sense of how to prioritize the things that matter and the things that make me a better person. It’s involved cutting out things (and occasionally people) that don’t necessarily help me (or allow me to help others) and that I was putting too much effort into to maintain.
When I was in Oxford, I was so, so happy. Like, all the time. In a weird way that’s almost scary because I’m not used to going that long without some sort of emotional breakdown or complete explosion. And I was convinced that was going to disappear when I got home, as if somehow being west of the Atlantic Ocean depletes my ability to be that happy. But it hasn’t – it wasn’t the location that made me such a different person emotionally, it was the changes in myself. (That’s so terribly cheesy, but whatever, I’m keeping it in here.)
I’m not the same person I was four months ago. At all. And I’m so grateful for it.
If you’re thinking about going on some crazy, soul-searching mission that involves shattering every concept of your comfort zone, I only have one piece of advice for you. Go for it.