On the airplane heading to Ireland, I was talking to a few people before take-off and mentioned I was studying abroad in Ireland. I was so excited and I just wanted to talk to everyone and just tell them. I happened to be taking the plane with some people from New Paltz, so it was nice to have people to talk to before getting on the plane and departing. When I first arrived, I quickly unpacked and then activities for orientation week began. It was very overwhelming at first, and I’d be lying if I said it was easy. I was really homesick and anxious at first. I really missed New Paltz and loved ones over there, and of course my family. The feelings of homesickness I felt were similar to the feelings I felt when I came to New Paltz as a Freshman. The feelings I used to feel when missing home were now the feelings I felt toward New Paltz. I guess it makes sense, because if I weren’t in Ireland I would be in New Paltz, and I had gotten so used to it and had made myself a home there. But it was special for me to realize how much I had truly grown to love and appreciate New Paltz, and how much of a home it had become for me, despite the fact that when I first arrived, all I wanted was to come back home to Manhattan. While it was a really hard transition at first, things got better, and it definitely helped to rely on loved ones back home. There were a lot of texts, phone calls, and video calls to people back home. Changes like these always feel impossible to overcome, but with time, things get better, and I am really glad I decided to embark on this experience.
One week from today, I will be 4,081 miles away from home for three and a half months. To be completely honest, I didn’t even make a list of things I should pack until yesterday. I’ve been too busy enjoying my summer working and spending time with friends and family. Lately, everyone around me wont stop asking me how I’m feeling about these upcoming months, but how can I feel something that hasn’t happened yet? It feels unreal. It’s like starting a new temporary life, I don’t have the slightest idea of what’s to come.
I’ve dedicated this summer to self -care and self love, something that is not stressed nearly enough these days. Practicing being present and living life in the moment may just sound like this inspirational quote you saw on Instagram, but many people make it their life motto to re-learn how to live in the now. If you can quiet your thoughts and de-attach from them, you learn to live a more peaceful and overall happier life.
So while the idea of spending a couple months alone in a country where the people don’t speak English may sound daunting, I feel mentally capable of handling any obstacle that may present itself. More importantly, I am full of gratitude for having the opportunity to get to know another side of the world.
So why did I choose to study abroad in the first place? Well besides the obvious reasons of wanting to expand my horizons, being able to travel inexpensively all over Europe, having the opportunity to become more independent, and being able to take awesome classes from a very different perspective, I chose to study abroad mainly for the immense amount of personal growth I know I will achieve during these couple months. There’s something about being alone half way across home that brutally forces you out of your comfort zone and into the world of adulthood. I don’t know what’s to come but I do know I will make the most out of it.
I’m not gonna lie, the weeks right before I left for Ireland are somewhat hazy. I was a camp counselor for eight weeks during the summer, and two weeks before I left, I posted an Instagram photo from camp. That seems like it was so long ago now. Before leaving, I honestly wasn’t worried about it. I had become friends with a student from the University of Limerick when he studied abroad at New Paltz, and the idea that I would know someone when I got there was definitely a relief. I didn’t start packing until the night before I left, and I don’t think it truly felt real until then. Everybody kept telling me how awesome it was and what a cool experience it would be. When you tell people you’re gonna be studying abroad, people get really excited and it seems like it’s universally regarded as being this totally awesome thing. I talked about it a lot before I went, both to my friend from Ireland and my suite mate who had studied abroad there the semester before. It also always seemed to come up in conversation during the summer, with people from camp, with friends and with family. I was looking forward to it, but it also seemed like a far away event, basically until the night before leaving. There were some minor periods where the fact that I was leaving for four months would sink in, but it took a while for that to happen. It didn’t really sink in until a few days before.
It did not hit me until we were about to land that I was going to be living in England for a few months. I was nervous to be alone in a completely different country. I had never been out of the United States; so flying internationally by myself was enough to make me nervous. I luckily had people that I knew traveling with me, but that did not help me feel comfortable with living by myself in a different country. It took the pressure off of the flight, but not of the entire study abroad experience.
Once I got off the plane I had to go through customs/immigration. Everybody was really nice and spoke in a British accent. This is when I realized that I was finally living out a dream I have always wanted. Since high school, I have loved everything British. I loved British novels, British stores and their culture. There I standing in front of immigration and I was about to live out my dream of living in England for a few months.
I was fortunate enough to get picked up from the airport, so I got to see the streets of England while relaxing on a coach bus. I was fascinated how the bus driver could maneuver their way around the small streets. There are also a lot of roundabouts, which made me smile because it was not something that we have in New York. The people that were from the University that picked us up from the airport were very nice and made sure that we were okay. I was both excited and nervous to start this experience.
When I started packing for England, I thought that I would definitely be able to put all the things I needed to bring into one suitcase, but that was not the case. Since I could not fit everything that I needed into my suitcase, I knew that the first day that I arrived in London would be a day where I would be shopping. I did not like this so much because I would have liked to been able to just relax after the flight.
Other then packing, I was also worried about being away from home. I am a family oriented person and being in a different country with no way to go home and see them was very scary to me. I knew I was going to have fun being abroad, but the fact that I would not be able to physically see my parents and sister was not something I ever wanted to happen. In order to make my situation better, I helped set up Skype with my parents and made sure I would be able to video call them whenever we were both free.
Don’t get me wrong I was very excited to be able to learn with British students and experience a different school system, but I was still scared of some things. I kept telling myself that my classes were going to be a lot of fun as well as I would be able to travel and experience different cultures easily. Studying abroad, to me, have pros and cons, but the pros out weight the few cons by a land slide. I knew it was going to be difficult at first and that I will really enjoy getting to do experience England as a student.
Hello all! I am currently writing this post from my dorm room in Guilin China at 11:37 PM. Before I discuss how my 2 weeks have been so far, let’s rewind to the day of me leaving America (and I guess I should also introduce myself a bit.) My name is Beth and I am from a small town on Long Island called Cedarhurst. I was born in China but came to America when I was 15 months old. I have always wanted to go to China and experience my culture firsthand ever since I was a little girl (age 7 or 8) I have never traveled to another country on my own, which as you can imagine, seemed super exciting as well as super terrifying (haha).
The trip to get to China was a bit hard considering I didn’t sleep the entire way there (20 + hours awake) but when I finally arrived at the Hong Kong airport, I was in such awe. It was a huge airport! There were at least four floors and each floor was like a maze. The flight from Hong Kong to Guilin, Guangxi, China took about an hour. As soon as I got off the plane I was greeted by a taxi driver who spoke zero english and that’s when it hit me, I was truly in China! (I know, you’d think it would’ve hit me earlier) The taxi was organized by my host institution, CLI (the Chinese Language Institute) I got to the dormitory at 3:35 PM. (I was super jet lagged) I was given a tour around the campus by CLI interns 5 minutes later. My intern’s name was Elben. She was very nice and spoke english very well. That night I fell asleep at 8PM (earliest I probably ever went to be in my entire life). I was extremely happy to be in China, I could not wait for the next day to occur.
When the next day occured, it was not what I thought it would be like. It was very rough and confusing because no one really spoke English in my dormitory, not even the staff… My expectations of having New Paltz abroad were slowly disappearing. No one spoke english well enough to understand me, which was super scary! I remembering sitting in the main lobby of the building, freaking out, wondering when I would get food (none of the local shop owners speak english in Guilin) Luckily, I met my first Chinese friend named Andrew. He spoke fluent Chinese as well as English. ( my savior who took me to Walmart, YES, there is a Walmart in China!)
Now let’s fast forward to now. (2 weeks in Guilin) My language skills have improved so much in just a small amount of time. Before China I knew about 30-40 Mandarin words, now, I know at least 100! (It’s only been 2 weeks!) I can understand the locals enough to get by and order food and of course go shopping for clothes (be warned: Chinese clothing sizes are much smaller than American sizes, a small in America is a large, sometimes even extra large in China!) I have met some amazing friends that I can not wait to share with you guys later in my posts, I have also been on some beautiful sight seeing excursions, organized by CLI, and I am becoming more and more fluent in Mandarin everyday! Who knows, my next post could end up being all in Chinese! (Don’t worry, I won’t do that to you guys)
It’s been about two months now since I’ve come home, I just turned twenty three days ago. I’m feeling very different. Coming home was hard, I didn’t readjust well to being treated like a kid again. In Prague I was independent and here it seems I can’t be even if I tried. As soon as I entered the country I felt this huge burden of the stupidity of our country. Something as simple as having to pay to get a cart for your luggage, that was free in every other country I went to and now I have to watch some old lady struggle with her luggage, sorry for ranting it’s just incredible how I also had better health care abroad than I do here. I’ve had the chance to taste a better way of living, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my trip to Paris and the bread/cheese I got to get from the markets. I think about my students and sometimes I get to talk to some friends that I made in Prague. If I had the choice to move there now, I would.
Watching the world from inside America again, I notice all the lies we’re fed, how terrible it really is to live inside this country right now. It’s idiotic. I’m not sure how I feel about staying after graduation, I honestly want to go back and take the job at the school that I was offered. Maybe I’ll study at Charles University once again.
After the semester ended at Charles University, I stayed an extra three weeks to keep volunteering at the local high school. In those three weeks I felt I had built a life I would have been very happy carrying out and returning home to go to school to want to do what I was already doing at the high school seemed tedious. I knew I obviously had to come back home, but I would miss the students and the teachers I had gotten close to. Not to mention living in Prague was my actual dream come true. Traveling around Europe and seeing all these things I only dreamt of seeing made me feel so good inside despite how alone I was. Coming home gave me the worst anxiety actually; I didn’t feel like I had anything but my family to come home to (granted they’re great). I also don’t look forward to living in a country that is now ran by a dictator who is an obvious racist. I had lost an extreme amount of friends and support in general when I left to Prague. However, now I know I can leave again and that option is possible. I’m a better person in Prague, maybe that doesn’t exist and you are equally as good everywhere but I was happier there. At the end of my stay, I developed all my film and it was so nice to see my time through photos. Some moved me which sounds pretentious, but oh well. I went through so many stages while living abroad, I lived many different lives in that time. I grew up which is why I wanted to study abroad in the first place, I didn’t do it the way I wanted or planned, but I definitely changed.
Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.
You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.