For the past three months, I have been living in a reality that has felt surreal. Studying abroad has been one of my favorite chapters in my life, and has altered who I am as a person. It has opened my mind up to the size of the world, has exposed me to new cultures, has given me confidence in places I didn’t know it was lacking and has challenged me emotionally and mentally in an indescribable way.
One of the most important things that I have come to embrace, as I have mentioned in my previous posts, is being alone.
“It is always scary to be alone, but as I have said previously, fear is a hindrance that should be faced head on, not run from.”
This is not to say that I have been lonely for the past three months, no. Being lonely and being alone are very different things. I have been alone in travel, in thoughts, in experiences and in learning — all without feeling lonely.
If anything, in embracing my own friendship, I have come to feel more connected to this world than ever before.
So, that’s all fine and dandy to say, but what exactly do I mean? What is the art of being alone? How do you embrace it and master it during your time abroad?
The best way that I can answer these questions is through a telling you all a story about my recent adventures in Italy:
This past Wednesday, I had the day off of classes, and was wondering what to do with my time. I didn’t have friends in my program who had the day off as well, and I didn’t want to lay in bed all day (I mean, I’m in Italy after all!). So, I looked into towns neighboring Verona, and decided to take an hour train ride into the Dolomite Mountains to a small city called Rovereto.
I had heard almost nothing of the town before, and had no idea what to expect, but It looked interesting and I was confident in my ability to explore the city on my own.
While visiting Revereto, I was able to step foot in a cathedral that Mozart himself performed in, I was able to see the beauty of this mountain town and I took a hike to a World War I memorial for a picnic lunch. I was able to experience the local culture, and was able to learn so much about Italian history – all because I was willing to travel on my own.
If I had not been comfortable being alone, I maybe would never have been to the magical town of Rovereto. I would not have seen the crystal-clear waters of its river, I would not have heard the Christmas bells ring throughout the town, and I would not have the memories of my peaceful hike in the mountains.
It is always scary to be alone, but as I have said previously, fear is a hindrance that should be faced head on, not run from.
In my time abroad, the best way that I have learned to beat loneliness is to live in the present moment to the best of my abilities.
My advice: Stay off of your phone. Look out at the view from your train window as you travel. Be kind to strangers. Pick up a hobby (reading, drawing, writing, tap dancing, etc.). Don’t worry about being in contact with your friends and family as often as usual and try not to worry about what other people want to do with their days.
While studying abroad, focus on engaging yourself in the present and focus on investing in your own wellbeing and wishes. Now is the time to think of yourself and to become your own travel companion.
Living and studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience, and living in the present moment as opposed to being trapped in thought is the main piece of advice that I can give future study abroad students.
Marcella Anderson is a foods and nutrition major with a minor in interdisciplinary studies through the Weber Honors College. She is studying abroad during fall semester at IUSVE University in Verona, Italy.