Sunset on the horizons of Malaga, Spain.
Sunset on the horizons of Malaga, Spain.

Study Abroad: The most vulnerable four months of my life

March 20, 2017

Sometimes I look around and ask myself, “How did I even get here?”

Everything happened so fast that I was barely able to grasp the intensity of this so-called new adventure of my life. I moved to Spain for four months not knowing a single soul who lived here and without the mere ability to articulate a phrase in Spanish.

My friend, Samantha, overwhelmed at a Paris bakery.

I moved to Spain for four months expecting it to be the best four months of my life. I mean it is supposed to be, right? You are supposed to meet people from different cultures who change you and provoke you to open your mind to possibilities that would otherwise be invisible.

You are to pick up a new language and bring back new perspective. You are to be responsible, but have fun. You are to Instagram and blog, but also live in the moment.

You are to grasp every opportunity that comes your way, whether it’s an overpriced ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower or the chance to get to know a mysterious stranger at a foreign party. All the while, you ought to be safe and you better spend money wisely.

Chariot driver taking a “siesta” or mid day nap in Malaga, Spain.

You are to try every dish, which has a name you cannot pronounce, but you cannot get sick. You are to pursue great adventure sports but you cannot hurt yourself. Most of the time your insurance won’t even cover such injuries.

The most common but unrealistic expectation you set for yourself is to be in a constant cloud atmosphere of joy. You have chosen this trip for yourself and you have worked very hard to get where you are. How can you be anything but happy on what is supposed to be the trip of a lifetime?

The narrow streets of a small Andalucia town.

The truth is, the country of your choice is not a magical land where nothing ever goes wrong and the sky bleeds rainbows and sunshine. Life does not get easier as you step off the plane into a land that you have never been in. Making friends is hard when you cannot articulate your feelings into a language that you constantly struggle with.

So don’t start your trip with the wild expectation that you are going to be stepping into the greatest moments of your life because life does not become a wish granting genie overnight.

In fact it is quite the opposite.

Graffiti on the buildings in Paris.

You become more vulnerable overnight when you are stripped of the comfort of familiarity that you have always been well accustomed to. However, that is also when life becomes more interesting.

And that’s the magic of it all.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my journey so far has been the simple fact that I came here not knowing a single soul. From that to having an acceptable amount of friends in two months, I still recognize that two months, or less, is too short a time to set expectations. In a way, the only person that I really have here is myself.

Being alone is being vulnerable, but vulnerability has forced me to become a better friend to myself. It has allowed me to explore who I really am and engrave a certain self-awareness and responsibility in myself.

I got the bargain deal because being vulnerable made me even stronger. As much as I love the ease of normality and being surrounded by the ones who love me, traveling has made me acknowledge that the world is too big and life is unpredictable.

Sunset on the horizons of Malaga, Spain.

When I was forced to encounter situations that I could never before imagine even in my worst nightmares — such as the time I lost my passport, all my money and shelter for a night — I realized that I am the only person I need to put up a vigorous fight against life.

When I saw the sun set against the hilly horizons of a narrow Andalucía town crowded with attention-seeking street musicians, I realized that life is a bucket full of never-ending surprises.

This journey, out of all of the trips that I have taken, has been the most difficult and yet the most rewarding. With the million unfulfilled expectations that come with living abroad, another million unexpected little things to fall in love with followed.

My friend, Samantha, overlooking Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Studying abroad might not be the easiest four months of your life, it might not even be the best, but it sure is a thrilling rollercoaster which requires solid optimism.

I still sometimes wonder, “How did I get here?”

I thank my lucky stars that I did, because this has been the most exhilarating experience of my life.

Email Nujhat at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @nujhatp. 

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