It has been four weeks since I returned home to Sri Lanka following the abrupt end of my time abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amsterdam feels like a lifetime away. I am so lucky and privileged to have had the opportunity that I did. But goodbyes are never easy. Especially the ones that come before their time. So of course, I expected to mourn this loss; all the could-have-been experiences and the friendships that were still budding. But I’ve realized that I am a lot more grateful for the experiences that I did have and the friendships that I did make and the ways that my time abroad helped me grow.
During IES Abroad orientation way back in January, we were asked to write down goals for our time abroad. I’m not going to lie, I completely forgot about these goals once classes started, but recently I salvaged the piece of paper from the bottom of my suitcase and I realized that I had done it. I had oh so quietly actually accomplished all of my goals. So this is a celebration of me seizing the day and all the small ways that “Abroad Changed Me”.
Goal 1: Travel More
I spent a little over 24 hours each in both Paris and Berlin. Some would question how much one could see and learn in such a short amount of time. To an extent, I agree, I obviously didn’t see everything, but they were both such amazing trips. I learned so much. My favorite thing about travelling is seeing how many ways there are to live beyond what I’ve known!
Goal 2: Take initiative
Goal 3: Say Yes more!
Most social situations scare me. I have always preferred to let someone approach me rather than strike up a conversation. Wait for someone else to invite me, rather than invite someone or suggest a plan. You get the idea. So obviously I was very nervous coming into study abroad, because I knew pretty much nobody. But, I did it! I made myself vulnerable and embraced it fully. For the first time in my life, I was initiating friendships and coming up with plans. And I’m glad I did because I made some of the kindest, most passionate and fun friends from all over the US and the world!
Goal 4: Do things alone
Another scary one. But this is the one I’m most proud of - I went to a concert alone!!! YUP, I DID THAT. My favorite artist, JP Saxe, came to Amsterdam and I wanted to see him perform so badly, but didn’t know any other fans. My Google search history will reveal that I googled if it was weird to go to a concert alone, multiple times, before I said screw it, and just bought the ticket.
When I tell you this was one of the best nights of my life. I mean it. There is something so beautiful about a room full of people brought together by something they love. Despite my anxious thoughts about going alone, I didn’t feel weird or judged in the least. In fact, I made friends in the crowd!
Goal 5: Bike!
Goal 6: Join a workout class
Exercise makes me really happy and is also a good distraction from the deadlines and daily worries of my life. But, I’m only human and it’s not always easy to convince myself to get on that bike or get to the gym. But, a few weeks into my program, I joined the University gym. Having actually paid money for the membership kept me pretty motivated to go regularly and it did wonders for my sanity.
Goal 7: Journal more
I love journaling. I find it to be so so therapeutic. But in the past, I’d find myself journaling only when I was feeling sad. I would never write about the things in my life that brought me joy, so that’s what I was aiming for with this goal. While I found it difficult to stick to a daily routine, I made a conscious effort to sit down for a few hours every so often and reflect on what had been going in my life and the world around me.
Goal 8: Enjoy my classes
Goal 9: Learn more about the Netherlands
Yup, I really wrote that down as a goal. But yes, I truly love the classes I have been able to take at the University of Amsterdam and through IES Abroad. I miss in-person discussions with my classmates and professors so much. I’ve also come to gain so much knowledge beyond the classroom about the Netherlands; from its dutch colonial history to its politics, which is really intriguing.
And there you have it! None of my goals were grand or overly ambitious, maybe even boring. But they represent the every day that I tried to make the most of, and my journey to be bolder, happier and kinder to myself. Abroad really did change me (although yes, I also did come back with a boundless love of wine and stories that start with "When I was in Europe…”).
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My name is Sumini Siyambalapitiya and I'm a junior at Lafayette College PA, studying Math/Econ and Women, Gender and Sexuality studies. I call the incredibly beautiful island of Sri Lanka my home. Some things I love in no particular order are: bubble tea, reading, working out, and This Is Us!