“Oh yes, I totally understand what you mean. See, when I was on my year abroad….”
Wow, am I now going to be that person? I’m afraid I might just be. I will try my best to limit the level of cringeworthy content in this post, but I can’t guarantee that there won’t be phrases not dissimilar to ‘life enriching’, ‘thought provoking’ and ‘character building’. You have been warned. But if I can limit this post to under five eye rolls, I think I’ve done a good job. Just think yourself lucky that I’m not cracking out the slideshow and a laser pointer.
But yes, in this post I am going to be talking about some of my top takeaways from my year abroad – as in personal development, I’m not going to be ranking poppadoms. I just wanted to share what I have learnt, how I have coped in tricky situations, and what might help others who are going to do or are doing a similar thing.
It’s hard to know where to start really. Whenever someone asks, ‘so, how was your year abroad?!’, I find myself at a loss for what to say. How do I squeeze 300 + days into one sentence, encapsulating the happy highs, the lousy lows, and a lot of ‘normal’ in between. How can I explain with very few words that the outcome is quite different to what I expected, and that it wasn’t this ‘fairytale’ year, but that I wouldn’t really change my experience. It’s impossible. I end up being very British and saying, ‘it was good thanks’. That seems to do the trick.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I realised quite early on that my goal of finishing this year being completely fluent was fairly unrealistic. Fluency is very hard to define. It changes in different situations, with different people, and even at different times of the day. Of course, the more time and effort you put into practising your language, the more those factors are minimised. So for some, it happens quicker than it does for others. But essentially, language learning, as with most things really, will always be a life-long lesson. There will always be something that you don’t know, always an idiom that sounds like it’s come from Mars, and always a word that will make you say, ‘errr, come again?’. It took me a while to readjust to this, and I had to keep reminding myself of it when I would get frustrated because I felt that I wasn’t improving quickly enough. But what even is ‘enough’ these days, anyway? Woah, that took a turn…
Once I’d got my head around this, I began to enjoy the process more than obsess over the finished product. And not just linguistically either. I learnt so much about myself, my faith, the world around me, and I am so excited now for this next chapter with all these new tools I’ve added to my belt.
Firstly, Jesus has been nudging me to notice the prayers that He answers on the daily, and that the more time I spend with Him, the more ‘myself’ I feel. I have had some very big answered prayers whilst I’ve been away and God has blessed and taken care of me more than I could have ever imagined. But He has also been teaching me to lay everything at His feet, not just the big stuff. It’s when I bring to Him the everyday, boring stuff that His goodness is revealed in all it’s glory. We are God’s children. If He was just there for the big celebrations and the tough battles, would He really be fulfilling His role as a Father? No, God wants to walk through life with us. He wants to minister to us in the small and the big. He wants to be there with us when we sip our morning coffee, as we’re awkwardly wigglewalk-running for the bus, when we do the weekly shop…He’s a God of miracles, but He is also a God of the mundane.
Whilst I already knew this about His character, I was able to really relish it whilst I was away. Extraordinarily, in the moments when I was on my own, particularly in the second semester, God helped to shift my focus from internal to external, and gave me the eyes to see what He was doing around me. It was actually in those lonely moments, at those points when I wanted to just give up and go home, that I felt God most closely and powerfully.
And it’s also been then when I have noticed a shift in my level of self-confidence. Moving to uni is one thing, but moving to another country forces you to make your own decisions and stand by them because there is literally no one else that will make them for you. I realised that I had been piggy backing other people for fear that my own legs would be too shaky to support my own weight. Although I have always been a fairly confident person on the outside, my inner confidence was a liiiiiittle rusty. I would often search for the validation of other people as a gauge of whether I was doing the right thing or whether I was good enough. It was only when I was bucked off into France and had to make my own way, stripped of what I was comfortable with, that I realised that for me to survive, I had to start trusting my judgement. And little by little, this trust grew and, in turn, so did my confidence. I’m still working on it, but I have noticed how this has had a huge impact my mental health, and has also made me less fearful of being alone for long periods of time.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I would love to chat more about this subject, but I realise I have already gone on a bit. So, I hope that in my future posts, I can apply what I have learnt to help anyone reading who might be going through similar things. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am really looking forward to getting into a bit of a routine with my blog and honing in on a few of the topics that really get my fingertips wriggling, namely food, my faith, wellbeing and also, the environment (a subject that I have been getting more and more passionate about over this past year). So keep your eyes peeled, and 100 points to you if you have made it this far!
Speak to you soon,
PS, I hope you’ve enjoyed some of my snaps from my recent holiday to Corfu!