Alexandra Carlson, October 30th, 2016
It is now nearing the end of October in Vienna, Austria. The leaves have changed colors, the sun has hidden behind a seemingly constant covering of clouds, and I can sincerely say that I have no idea where the last month has gone. My time here has officially exceeded its halfway mark, and with that comes a strange feeling that can best be described as a combination of sadness and comfort. I am missing my loved ones more and more with each coming day, but the thought of leaving this place that has become my home in less than two short months is too much to bear. Many changes and new adventures have come about since my last entry. I wish I could discuss all of these adventures in great depth, but that would require a lot of time on my part (and a lot of patience on yours), so for the purpose of this blog, I will spare you the details and simply discuss what I have learned over the course of the past few weeks.
LESSON #1: FEAR NOT
Throughout my life, I have always lived more on the cautious side. As much as I hate to admit it, I have never been the person that fears nothing and throws caution to the wind. That being said, embarking on this whole study abroad adventure was a pretty big deal for me, especially considering everything that has been going on in Europe as of late. My parents certainly weren’t exactly thrilled with the thought of me frolicking all around Europe, and I certainly don’t blame them. Before I left the States, I had several people telling me to be safe and reconsider taking so many side trips. I also had several telling me that letting the current situation keep me from doing the things I wanted to do would be idiotic. Honestly, I found myself somewhere in the middle of these two viewpoints- wanting to “throw caution to the wind” but also wanting to keep caution in my back pocket.
There were several places that I had always wanted to go but that my parents didn’t feel comfortable with me going right now. Upon my arrival in Europe, I had pretty much decided on only traveling to the “safe places”- the ones untouched by conflict, but after being here for a little while, that began to change. I want to let you in on a not-so-secret secret- the media tends to make everything look worse than it actually is, which in turn strikes a lot of unnecessary fear into a lot of people. I’m not trying to downplay the situation and say that everything in the world today is perfectly dandy, or that you shouldn’t be careful and watch your surroundings. However, I do hope to ease a few worries, whether you are a future traveler or a parent of one. I have done quite a bit of traveling in the past couple months and plan to do quite a bit more. I have taken trips with only one other girl friend, and I have flown by myself, and I can honestly say that I have yet to feel unsafe anywhere I have gone. I have friends who have traveled all over, and I have yet to hear of anyone feeling like they were in an unsafe environment either. On a whim, I decided to join a friend in London, a place I had originally crossed off my list, and if I had let fear keep me from going, I would have missed out on experiencing a city that completely stole my heart.
So, if there is a place that you have always dreamed of going, don’t let fear stop you! Obviously, you should use your best judgement and avoid putting yourself in a situation that is clearly dangerous, but spending a semester abroad is the perfect opportunity to see the things you have always dreamed of seeing. Chances are you won’t have the opportunity to do so again for a while, so I challenge you to throw caution to the wind (but also keep a little bit in your back pocket), and I promise you will have an incredibly rewarding semester!
LESSON #2: MAKE IT YOUR OWN
It’s probably not news to you that everyone is different. We all have different personalities, different passions, different priorities, etc. I think it’s incredibly important to keep this in mind during your semester abroad. Studying abroad is a big decision that everyone makes for their own reasons. Some do it to learn about a different culture, to learn a different language, to be independent, to pursue their goals of a career in international business, or even just to spend a semester partying (yes, there are those people). I would encourage everyone to think about why they are choosing to embark on this journey before they leave, and keep it in the back of their mind throughout their time overseas. As for me, I wanted the ability to explore places I’ve never been and experience different perspectives. However, upon my arrival I found that a large majority of exchange students here just wanted to go out to clubs every night and sleep all day. At first I felt guilty every time I didn’t want to go out because I wanted to wake up early and do something the next day, but then I remembered the reason I came here. I had to remember that this is MY semester abroad and that I should do what’s right for me in order to make the most out of it.
Do the things that make you happy. Travel to the places you want to travel. Spend time with the people you enjoy spending time with. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing, even if it’s not what everyone else is doing. Own your time abroad. It’s the chance of a lifetime to go out and do the things you’ve always wanted to do, so make the most of it and make it your own.
LESSON #3: GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
There is truly no better way to get to know yourself than leaving behind everything familiar and moving to a foreign country. At times it can be scary and oftentimes difficult to leave behind the life you knew and trade it in for a new one for a few months so to speak. In College Station, having time for myself wasn’t really a thing. I was always either in class, studying, at a meeting, at dance practice, spending time with friends or the boyfriend, never really finding myself wondering, “Well what the heck am I going to do today?”. Coming here, this was a strange thing to experience. With no organizations to join and a much lighter course load, it’s something you experience quite frequently. At first, I kind of despised it. I’ve always liked being busy and often feel guilty having a day all to myself, but I recently learned that having time to myself, for myself, by myself is a pretty amazing thing. I absolutely adore spending time with the people I’ve met here, and I cherish the trips I’ve taken with friends, but I’ve also learned to cherish those moments when nothing is going on and I have free time for myself. Today I went to a really cool coffee shop where I wrote in my journal and began typing this blog post, and then I went and strolled through a park with hot chocolate in hand. By myself. And loved it.
Before coming here, I never really thought about studying abroad as a chance to get to know yourself, but it’s turned out to be one of my favorite aspects of this semester. So as silly as it might sound, I would encourage everyone studying abroad to hang out with yourself every once in a while. Go explore the city on your own, or even take a solo trip if you’re up for it! It’s an awesome chance to reflect on everything you’ve done and learned and to appreciate your surroundings from your point of view.
I am so excited for all of the exciting things I get to experience in the coming month including:
- Taking a trip with an old friend who is studying in Denmark
- Hosting my mom
- Celebrating Thanksgiving with friends
- Christmas markets
I can’t wait to share more in a month! Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!