While in undergrad I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. I was the only art history major in the program; the rest of the cohort consisted of architecture, business and journalism students. The other students had been making friends in their majors for three years. I didn’t know who was in the program until I was on the flight to France. These kids had picked their roommates months in advance, meanwhile, I was paired with three girls from a different University. To make a long, entertaining and ultimately traumatic story for another time, brief, the three girls I was paired with were a veritable nightmare. You know those unbelievable stories about rich American girls from prep-schools who do drugs, invite strange men back to their apartments while they’re studying abroad, then start screaming matches and try to call the Italian cops at 3 in the morning because the strange men won’t leave, and as the sun is rising, break a window in their friend’s room because she won’t share the nail polish? You know, those stories? That was my first night experience studying abroad.
After the terrifying roommates had passed out, and that misty morning violet haze was just lifting over the uneven cobblestones of Florence, I packed everything back into my suitcase. With shaky hands and the adrenaline of someone who needs to flee, I flung myself into a city I had only seen at night. That surreal, terrifying, ugly encounter marked the beginning of four majestic months where I learned to see the worth in every experience, no matter how upsetting.
While living in Europe and traveling frequently through countries where I only had a basic grasp on the language, I learned to live outside my comfort zone. The uncomfortable became my new normal. Thanks to the angels who would be my new roommates, I always had a safe, friendly, reliable place to lay my head; because of this, I thrived.
When I moved a month ago from my beloved North East Ohio to Columbus, Ohio, I was stubborn. Denial about the adulthood awaiting me translated into a deepening daze of negativity. I didn’t have a job, I don’t want to grow up, all my friends are in Cleveland. That was my mantra. Columbus is fine, I’d think to myself, but it’s no Cleveland. There are so many highways, everything looks like an old strip-mall, do they even have nice restaurants? Those were some of my more uncharitable thoughts. Kyle’s great, and I’m glad we won’t be long distance anymore, but…
Then, as I was unpacking one of the 15 boxes of books I brought to our apartment, I came across the journal I had kept while studying abroad. I sat on the floor and read the first couple entries in the journal about that first terrifying night, how scared I was, my gratefulness for my new roommates’ compassion and acceptance, my determination to savor my opportunity abroad. I read my past-self’s conscious decision to seek the new and revel in the unknown, the uncomfortable. “Every experience has something to offer,” I wrote.
I was so ashamed.
Negativity sneaks up on you, and then, it consumes you. Here I was, blessed to have the most supportive, kind, generous partner who chose the location of our new home based on my wants. I complained that my social circle is in Cleveland, when the very first weekend I moved to Columbus, I was surrounded by friends. I had forgotten the most vital lesson that had become my motto while living abroad: every experience has something to offer and should be cherished.
It’s easy to keep that “stay positive, appreciate the moment” attitude when you’re walking the same streets as Michelangelo and constantly reminded that the life you’re living isn’t real life. Real Life lasts until you’re dead and it’s is a lot less glamorous. There’s no going home to warm showers and Hienz ketchup in a few months; there’s a lot more repetitive moments, and much less, “let’s go to Paris this weekend!” It’s imperative, however, to maintain the mindset I had while studying abroad. To stay excited, to realize the blessings and opportunities for adventure when they smack me in the face, I must study abroad in perpetuity.
It turns out, Columbus is pretty great. I miss my family and my friends in NEO, but there’s so much here to be explored.