Walking off the plane to see my mom waiting for me in Charlotte, NC made a huge smile wipe across my face. I hadn’t seen her, or any of my other friends and family for 5 months. It felt wonderful to see them, but there was also a biting sadness in the back of my brain, because I was away from my new friends and family in Australia. Little did I know; this feeling was only going to get worse as time went on.
Before leaving to study abroad in Gold Coast, Australia, I was someone who did not venture out of their comfort zone. I can remember not wanting to go and crying my eyes out when I had to get on the plane and basically start over with classes, friends, and a new place. I wasn’t ready to be away for 5 whole months.
I look back on that person who didn’t want to go to Australia and I think, “Wow, I was so shy and timid, and my introverted-ness almost stopped me from going on a life-changing journey.” While I was in Australia, I experienced new things, stepped out of my comfort zone, made new friends, and immersed myself in a new culture. I gained a new level of independence, self-awareness, adaptability, and sense of adventure I had never had before.
One particular adventure sticks out in my mind as a realization point. One morning I woke up at 3 am to hike Mount Warning with a friend. The hike was four miles long, and it was a straight shot up. I can still remember the morning chill, the aching in my leg muscles and the darkness that surrounded me. The hike was long and difficult, and we reached the top at 6 am- just in time to see the show. I was overwhelmed with the scene before my eyes- I could see all of Australia. I could see the coastline in the background, the highlands with fog surrounding it, and of course the bright orange sun rising over the horizon.
Suddenly, the difficult hike I had just completed became so worth it. I thought to myself, “There are some people who live without ever seeing a sunset this beautiful.” It was in this moment that I realized I wanted to see the sun in every country on this planet. This is one of the many adventures I embarked on that helped me change my way of thinking.
If you are someone who likes to stay in their comfort bubble, or you are an introvert, I can assure you that stepping out and pushing yourself to try new things or go different places will awaken you in a way you didn’t know possible.
Some of the ways an introvert can get involved during their study abroad experiences are to join clubs or sports teams on campus, always ask fellow students for help in classes, attend on campus events, and to put technology away and observe your surroundings. By trying these ideas for stepping out of your bubble, you can form new friendships, go on new adventures, learn more about your host country’s culture, and discover new aspects about yourself.
The first couple of weeks back in North Carolina were foreign. I had been gone for so long and seen different things, so trying to get back in to my life in the U.S. felt like I was trying to be someone else.
I had released a new extrovert version of myself, but my friends and family back home knew me as the shy, inquisitive introvert I left America as. I struggled for months and felt depressed because I was stuck in a different life, doing the same things I had done before I went to Australia. I wanted spontaneity, adventure, challenge…
I wanted to be studying in Australia again. Eventually, I found ways to cope with my longing. I got involved in new clubs, sought out new experiences on my campus and in the city, and eventually learned how be the “Australia Meghan” without actually being in Australia.
Looking back on all my wonderful memories helps me transition back in my life here in North Carolina. I urge you to reflect on your wants. Beginning the study abroad process is stressful and a bit scary, but trust me it will be one of the best decisions you will make. You will see breathtaking views, make lifelong friends, study your degree in a new way, immerse yourself in a new culture, and redefine yourself as a person.
It is better to see and experience something once than to hear about it or see it in the media a thousand times. If you want to see the Eiffel Tower, study abroad in Paris, if you want to hold a Koala, study abroad in Australia. The future you will forever be thankful that you had the courage to step out of your comfort zone.