When you go to study abroad, everyone tells you how amazing of an experience it will be. The many friends you’ll make, the places you’ll see, the perspectives you’ll gain. While this is all true, I think it's also important to talk about the not-so-good things about studying abroad. After all, young adults moving to the other side of the world on their own isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Personally, I have never been this far away from home for an extended period of time. I went to college in California, thankfully, only a three hour drive away from home. Sometimes I would pop in frequently, other times I would go weeks without going home, but I always knew the option was there if needed. This definitely created a safety net for me, which was not only nice to have, but something that I truly appreciated and did not take for granted. Needless to say, moving 5,000 miles away with an 8 hour time difference has been troublesome.
Not being able to drive home on the weekends to get a hug from my mom, watch soccer with my dad, pet my dogs, or grab a coffee with friends is only the surface level of the difficulty that being away entails. A new environment means so much more than just new friends, new school, new place, and new city. Adapting to a whole new lifestyle can be incredibly lonely, isolating, and confusing.
Solidifying new friendships is something that is so hard, yet is a topic that is typically breezed over. As someone who has had the same core friend group for nearly a decade, and having a tight knit group of college friends that I lived with, having to restart the entire process of making friends can be uncomfortable and confusing. This is not to say that I have not met an amazing group of people in my program, but it is simply, just different.
But sometimes, loneliness does not always equate to friendship. You can be surrounded by as many people as you want, yet that can very well be the time where you feel the most alone. Although collectively, everyone is going through the same journey of being abroad in a new place and experiencing new things, the individual expeditions everyone is enduring can still be so different.
I think one of the most important things to note is that being lonely is okay. There is not necessarily a formula on how to overcome the feeling of loneliness, but rather ways to cope and manage these feelings. After all, these are all very normal human emotions. As far as advice goes, I’m definitely no expert. There are days that I feel extremely content and fulfilled, while other times, I feel down and isolated. However, here are some of the best tips I can offer that have helped me thus far:
Nurture your existing relationships back at home. FaceTime, Netflix Party, and Zoom with all of your loved ones back home, but be open minded when exploring new ones abroad. For me, it has also been helpful to use apps such as Meetup to find activities in the area (I’ve been playing soccer) to meet people outside of your classes and program. Sometimes, a change of scenery is the most helpful thing.
Embrace it. Like I previously mentioned, loneliness is not necessarily a negative thing. Honor yourself by having alone time, watch a movie, write in a journal, or even just enjoy the company of yourself when you have the chance. The craziness of the city is enticing, but often, there is nothing better than winding down and doing some self care activities.
Ironically, as lonely as you may seem, you are not alone. Everyone gets lonely, and everyone manages those feelings differently. Make friends, explore, and enjoy, but know that every day isn’t necessarily a grand, happy, social experience—and that is more than alright because this is real life. As soon as you accept this, you will be able to make the absolute best of your experience abroad.
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<p>Zoe Rodriguez-Willie is a senior at California Lutheran University, majoring in Communications with a minor in Sports Management. She is a Southern California native who is a connoisseur of European soccer and a major proponent of women’s sports. When she is not cheering on Barcelona or the USWNT, you may find her at Disneyland, the beach, or with her cat, Willow.</p>