How Study Abroad Changed Me

My grand adventure officially came to an end just over a week ago and I am back home in Northern California reflecting on everything I just experienced. The more I think back on this trip, the more I realize how much I grew in just four weeks thanks to study abroad. Aside from being an amazing time to see more of the world, it was time to challenge myself and break down anxiety.

During my junior year of high school I was diagnosed with general anxiety, social anxiety and OCD behaviors. It was tough to hear, but it explained so much about why I constantly worried, got excessively quiet around new people and never really ventured outside of my comfort zone. Leaving Northern California for college was a huge step in breaking down this anxiety, but eventually San Diego became my new comfort zone and I continued living my life in a closed bubble, worrying about everything.

As my study abroad got closer, the worry set in and I started wondering if I would actually enjoy any part of the trip, particularly traveling alone. Stepping on the plane in San Francisco brought me stomach pains and trembling hands, but I did it anyway. When I arrived in Finland, things settled out a little more … until it was time for the international student BBQ. Little did I know this BBQ would set me on a path of pushing past anxiety for the rest of the six week trip. I met a bunch of new people and shared laughs and good times with everyone, rather than being my quiet self. I honestly cannot tell you what helped me break out of that shell, but I won’t question it. From that BBQ on, I met new people almost daily, forged friendships that will last a lifetime and showed social anxiety who is actually in charge.

Change number 1.

Over four weeks, I got comfortable in Jyväskylä, Finland and started to feel at home. I actually dreaded leaving because I knew it would bring back that same stomach pain and shakiness I felt on the plane (and, I was right). As I boarded the ferry to venture to Sweden completely alone, the worry set in. My thoughts raced from the worst possible things that could happen to how on earth I was going to function in an unknown country by myself. Little did I know Stockholm was about to climb the list of my favorite cities in the world and tie for first place (nothing can surpass London).

I spent four days wandering around Stockholm with few plans and a lot of time in the day. I regularly visited a park that overlooked Old Town and just laid there, proving to myself that I could, in fact, relax and enjoy an unknown place completely alone. Within the first day, I was proving to myself that general anxiety does not have to control me.

Change number 2.

Next up was Copenhagen, Denmark. At this point, I had been abroad for nearly six weeks and homesickness set in quickly. In the spirit of this post, I won’t lie to you, I was pretty miserable. The worst part is that anxiety kicks you when you’re at your weakest, so the worry once again started to cloud my mind. But, I am also not one to waste four days in another country and I just spent the past five weeks showing anxiety who’s boss, I was not about to stop. So, despite being overly homesick and pretty lonely, I got myself to explore the city of Copenhagen. Rather than succumbing to worry and exhaustion as I normally might, I enjoyed the old buildings and cobblestone streets of Denmark.

Change number 3.

I cannot emphasize enough that studying abroad was the greatest decision of my college career so far. In each place, I stood up to anxiety in a new way and became a better person. Now that I am home, I look forward to carrying these memories and lessons with me throughout these last two years at SDSU.

Katelyn Throckmorton is a biology, pre-med sophomore. She is studying abroad in Jyväskylä, Finland in Summer, 2017.

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