This post is what I’m going to call my “final installment” of reflective posts from studying abroad. Saying Goodbye captured my feelings right after leaving Europe, Cultural Differences in Hungary provided a more lighthearted look back on the experience (which I think I really needed more than anyone), and now that I’ve had some time to sit back and reflect, I’ve come up with a few lessons I learned while abroad.
The semester came and went faster than I could have ever possibly imagined. It seems like not long ago I was arriving in Budapest, nervous and excited. But four months quickly passed and as cliché and corny as it sounds, I wouldn’t trade those months for anything. Whenever I saw Facebook posts from my friends returning from study abroad spouting how life-changing the experience was and how they will never forget it, I just passed them off as humble-brags and didn’t think much of it. But they were right. It opens your mind and pushes you out of comfort zones. It provides new firsts, new friends, and some life lessons along the way too.
One lesson I learned is that material things are completely unimportant. When your life can fit into a single suitcase and carry-on bag for four months, you re-wear the same clothes, wear through the same few pairs of shoes, and make-do with what you have. And did I ever feel deprived? Not once. It was almost nice to not have as many options to choose from when getting dressed in the morning!
My entire wallet was stolen just hours before I was supposed to board a flight to Berlin. After my initial freak-out and panic, I realized that everything can be replaced. New credit cards can be ordered, friends can lend you money in the meantime, and now my wallet isn’t full of loyalty cards I never use! Even before I left for Europe, I was trying to embrace minimalism. Now I know it’s something I will continue to integrate into my life.
The second lesson I learned is to be open to everything. Be open to new people, new foods, new places, and new experiences. Try the local food even if it isn’t your first choice in food. Strike up a conversation with people staying in your hostel; I promise you’ll meet the coolest people! There are people I regret not trying to get to know better, so put yourself out there! But also be open to changes in plans. Things always come up while traveling, and it’s a much better use of time to go with the flow than to pout about it all day. Plus, changes in plans usually make for better stories later.
This one ties into the last a bit: be positive! Take each annoyance or setback as part of the experience. Moping on a trip not only ruins your trip, but everyone else’s too. Once you get home you’ll be wishing for those annoyances if they meant you could go back.
Another lesson I learned is to cherish every moment and be as present as possible. Because, holy crap, it goes by SO FAST. When I got to Budapest I kept saying to myself, I don’t need to do everything right now because I’ve got four months left. Uh, safe to say I didn’t end up doing everything I wanted to do there. But downtime is very important to recuperate and recharge as well; just make sure you get out and explore once you’re nice and rested.
Also, take pictures! Some people think that taking pictures takes away from the experience while you’re in it, but I honestly think it enhances the experience and makes it more interactive! Just wait until you’re home to Instagram and post to Facebook. I love looking back at all the pictures I’ve taken, even if it does make me miss everything.
Lastly, go adventure on your own sometimes. I love spending time with people, but exploring a new place on your own lets you take your time, see what you want to see, and allows you some introspective time. It teaches you to navigate on your own and be self-reliant as well. So go take a walk for no reason.
I hope that reading this has provided you at least a little nugget of something to take away; even if you aren’t studying abroad, I think these lessons apply for any trip length.
I’ve been back in the “real world” for about a month and a half now, and God, I miss Europe every day. I know, I know, Cece needs to shut up about it already. When I was home for Christmas, my twin brother told me to stop talking about Budapest so much. But as I said in one of my very first blog posts, “the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate” (thanks for the wisdom, T-Swift). Maybe I am that cliché girl who came back from study abroad “transformed”, but I don’t care. Gus, feel free to keep on hatin’. (Who am I kidding? My brother probably won’t read this.)
Anyways, right now I just keep telling myself that corny phrase, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I tried to think of a less corny way to get that same point across, but it does have a lot of truth to it. So for now I’ll be cliché, corny, and keep talking about Europe until I want to stop. But I doubt that will happen, because at this point I want to uproot my life and move there for good. Sorry, Gus.