About a year ago I found out for certain that I would be studying abroad in England. I could never have anticipated how this experience would broaden my sense of empowerment and understanding about how rich and enormous the world really is. Truth is, it only started a landslide of wanderlust – since that trip, I organized a group of schoolmates to travel to Louisville KY for several days, and I felt no reservations, no fears. Only a desire to get back on the road. Traveling is second nature to me, and no place seems too far to explore now. I plan to leave Upstate New York as soon as I can, find a new corner of the world to explore.
While my experience abroad is one of the fondest periods of my life, I learned that there are pros and cons to going there with friends, or as I did in my case, going to the same study abroad program that my boyfriend at the time was attending. Maybe this advice will help someone approaching a similar situation.
The pros were that when I got terribly homesick, as I did often especially after the 2016 U.S. Election, it was great to have someone I was very close to nearby so that we could relate and talk each other through it. It was especially helpful when I received the bad news from home that my dog died suddenly, to have someone who cared who could physically be there to give me a hug. Not to mention that I was terribly nervous about traveling outside of London alone, and having a traveling companion made me feel much safer and like I had someone special to share that experience with. And of course it was incredibly fun to explore a new place with a familiar face, to react together to the novelties we encountered, and to deepen the relationship through these adventures.
All of this being said, the cons have become clearer with time. The swathes of time I spent with him were times I didn’t bond as closely with new friends, unless we hung out with groups. It also became draining to be each others’ only vestiges of home when we were homesick for the whole home, friends, family, et al. The biggest con, of course, is that the relationship is over, and so now there is a keen sense of sadness and missing what I’ve lost when I look back at my million billion pictures of my time exploring English, Scottish and Irish castles and landscapes with someone who is now my ex. All of these memories are colored with him, making it sometimes pleasant but oftener very wistful to reflect. While his presence made everything more vibrant and meaningful at the time, and in no way do I regret sharing these moments with him, there were comparatively very few moments that I could call my own, and I feel regretful that I didn’t explore more as an independent person, or make myself more available to make new friends. I feel that my attention was always pretty evenly divided between the places we went, and the person I was exploring them with – and now, reflecting back, so are most of my memories.
If I could give advice to anyone studying abroad who might be doing the same program as a close friend or significant other, I would say really make sure to take a significant amount of your time doing your own journeys. Really, once a week is plenty for a date or hanging out with your American friend or partner – save time to bond with the people of the land, or get to know a place on your own terms. Ultimately, I think if you sojourn on your own study abroad program without knowing anyone at all, while it involves maybe a lot more bravery and discomfort, I imagine that no later shifts of relationship can take away the satisfaction that these memories give you. You will have given yourself entirely to a new place, and that place will not break up with you later.
All I know is that I am not quite done with the United Kingdom and Ireland – I plan on really taking some time with just me and them someday. Can’t come soon enough.
Remember that Studying Abroad is your time to get to know who you really are, when your home culture’s been pulled away. So don’t carry too much on your back with you. Letting go is not disrespectful – it’s giving those you love room to breathe. Brave the bracing wind a little. Those few moments that I did, that it was just me and the world, gave me a sense of aliveness that I wouldn’t trade for anything.