Study Abroad Reflection

I realize that this post is embarrassingly past the time when I was abroad, but in my defense, this post started off as separate, one-off musings in my journal before I realized that it might make sense to put them all into one, cohesive post. I was originally planning to curate a photo post of a few of my favorite moments from abroad (and I might still do that!), but I've been gravitating toward writing through some deeper lessons. Enjoy!

On not living in a city 

The Swiss countryside (!!!)

The Swiss countryside (!!!)

Since I started college, I haven't lived in an environment that wasn't a city. Before embarking on this adventure, there was a part of me that was terrified that I would feel unsatisfied without the excitement of New York City. NYC is easily my favorite place in the world right now, and even though I consider myself to be a pretty open-minded person, I was worried that I would quickly grow bored of Switzerland's rural vibes. However, I was pleasantly surprised that I quite enjoyed living in Morges, a quiet village situated about forty minutes outside of Geneva. 

The best part about living in Morges was how much more relaxed I felt, which gave me the freedom to do a lot more self-reflection than I had ever done at Barnard. As I would talk long walks around the area, my mind would often drift into an abyss of questions and topics that I had been hesitant about addressing before. It was certainly unnerving at first, but once I tried to embrace this new sense of self-awareness, I realized that I was much more at peace with myself.

I still am torn as to whether I prefer NYC or the Swiss countryside because the two places are just so different in my mind - the people who I interacted with every day, the culture, and the state of myself as a person when in each place. I think it's going to be interesting to return to NYC for senior year and see if my perception of living there has changed as a result of this experience.

On writing

My favorite spot to write in the Geneva area

My favorite spot to write in the Geneva area

Writing was such an important part of my study abroad experience. I'd like to think that my reliance on writing is a big part of my development as a person in all settings, but I think that I only started appreciating its significance in my life during my time abroad. While I was trying out all of these new places, friends, and ideas, I'm happy that I also became more adventurous with my writing.

What does being adventurous with writing look like, you ask? For me, that entailed ridding myself of notions around "valid writing" that I recently developed in Barnard's rigorous academic community. Don't get me wrong, I love Barnard and the ways that I'm intellectually challenged in that environment, but I've realized that my focus had gradually shifted toward thinking that structured, academic writing is more valuable than writing that is creative, expressive, and filled with feeling. I have a lot of thoughts on this topic re: what kinds of writing are generally valued and what's wrong with this value system, but maybe that can be for another post:) The point is that, when I took a break from writing academic papers at Barnard, I began to gravitate toward writing that felt more natural and expressive. 

On maintaining relationships back home

One of my dear friends from abroad and I have discussed, at length, how we're at this tricky point where our lives seem to be split into arbitrary periods of time dictated by circumstance, which means that it can be quite difficult to maintain relationships. This past year has been quite tough on me in the sense that, after being in one place for about three or four months at a time, I moved to a new place and jumpstarted new relationships, which means that it can be hard to maintain close relationships that I had fostered in the previous few months. Just to be clear: I'm not complaining about going to new places; actually, quite the opposite. I love exploring and starting new adventures, but I think it's important to be aware of the pitfall that maintaining relationships in my life takes a lot more conscious effort than I had been expecting.

My host mom and I in Chamonix

My host mom and I in Chamonix

If anything, I feel like I've learned more about myself and what I want from important relationships in my life. A year ago, I would have never thought to have scheduled recurring times to Facetime with my friends because, well, that concept just felt like I was forcing a friendship. I figured, "If something came up, I could just call them whenever and vice versa." However, a year ago, I would be in the same place for much longer, as opposed to this year when I'm in the same place for smaller intervals of time.

As there became more and more times when I wanted to Facetime friends either when I had a specific reason or I just wanted to catch up, but then didn't call because we hadn't talked in so long or I just didn't know how to start a conversation, I realized that I had to be better about maintaining lines of communication with my close friends if I wanted to feel more comfortable reaching out to them. I think this hesitation was partially my own self-doubt getting in the way, because in the instances that I did reach out to my stateside friends, they were always warm and welcoming, but it can certainly feel awkward to reconnect with people if you haven't talked with someone in a long time and then suddenly dive into the relationship again.

The key takeaway here is that, I've been trying to be better about communicating what I need and want from the important people in my life. I've also learned that I shouldn't put effort into a relationship if the other person isn't willing to put in the same level of effort - I've drifted and become closer with different friends, and I think that's natural (and at times has been painful,) but I feel more balanced because of it. I hope that I can continue this cycle with the close friends that I met abroad.

On traveling alone and being independent

Me at the international Red Cross and Red Crescent museum in Geneva (One of the highlights from my time abroad)

Me at the international Red Cross and Red Crescent museum in Geneva (One of the highlights from my time abroad)

This semester, I didn't go on any trips that were completely solo (however, that's on my bucket list!), but I usually traveled to other countries and met up with friends who were studying there. This made for many interesting solo experiences in airports, train stations, metro stops, and even boat terminals. There were certainly challenging moments (imagine navigating an airport in a rush when every sign is in another language,) but after all of these experiences, I feel a lot more empowered to venture off and take charge of my own adventures! There was something so satisfying about planning something that I was excited about and then having it all work out.

In addition to feeling better about independently traveling, I also feel more confident in pursuing my interests whether or not I had friends who also shared those interests. I really appreciate the friendships that I forged while I was abroad, but I found that there were a few times when I wanted to attend an event or activity and my friends weren't as interested as I was. For example, there was one day in Geneva when I really wanted to see an art exhibit that the Red Cross and Red Crescent museum was having - I love this organization and I also love art, so the event was perfect for me! Even though I didn't have friends who were able to go with me, I decided to go by myself. And I'm so happy that I did, because it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences abroad (I actually cried because I was so moved!)

On traveling with friends

The counter to the above section: traveling with my friends! I feel so lucky to have been abroad at a time when a good number of my friends from school and life were in Europe - this made for many fun weekend trips. I picked up a few lessons on how to best do this along the way:

  • Setting expectations pre-trip - One concept that I learned a lot about this semester was "travel styles." A travel style is your individual set of preferences for how you travel, which could include everything from what times of the day you like to fly to what you activities you want to do in the evenings. When I first heard about this concept before I went abroad, I remember thinking that travel styles wouldn't really matter because, as long as we were all adaptable, it would be possible to have a fun travel experience with anyone. And while I still believe that this is theoretically true, I realized that I had a much better time with friends who had similar travel styles as me. For example, massive festivals stress me out, so traveling with a friend who wants to exclusively go to popular festivals probably wouldn't make for an enjoyable experience for me (this situation didn't actually happen to me; it's just an example!) So in the future, I always want to have a conversation with my potential travel friends about their travel styles so there are no unpleasant surprises during trips.

  • Making a list of my must-see things - I like writing lists, but I usually don't go overboard with my travel lists. However, as the semester went on, that it was helpful for me to jot down a few of my must-see places for each new city. From a logistical perspective, this is helpful because I found that a lot of my favorite things got booked far in advance.

  • However, it's important to be flexible and spontaneous - While plans are great, some of my favorite experiences from this semester were completely unplanned. I realized that it's crucial to revel in unexpected moments in order to make the most of these experiences. It was great to have fun and adapt to unplanned circumstances!

That's it! Thanks for reading, and please send me your thoughts, reactions, and follow-up questions if you feel so inclined. I hope you are having a great summer, and please always feel free to reach out for a chat x