When I sit down with study abroad nay-sayers and cautious plane-hoppers, I’m often faced with the same fear masked in a variety of forms.
- “If I go to London for the semester, my boyfriend might break up with me.”
- “None of my friends are going. What if they forget I exist?”
- ”How am I going to readjust to my old life when I get home?”
What does this boil down to in its most basic form? Fear of the truth. Removing yourself from a situation–such as a relationship, social network, or college campus–means taking the time to reevaluate its importance to you. It also means that those you leave behind–your significant other or three BFFs–may have time to reevaluate you, too.
Proximity does not allow us the space and time to reflect on how we really feel. We keep the peace, get used to things, truck along. When you decide to go abroad, you give yourself the gift of distance. It is an opportunity to grow, test hypotheses, and transform into a best self that might have been tethered to your prior circumstances. When you travel, you acknowledge the chance to meet new people, create sparks, and open your eyes. The universe hears you.
The fault in fear is that it only acknowledge one possible outcome: Going abroad will result in my boyfriend/girlfriend/best girls/frat bros forgetting about me, and I’ll come home to a lonely, shitty senior year of college.
Thousands…tens of thousands…of students go abroad every year. Do you think this number would continue to catapult if each jetsetter came home to empty arms? Get out of here.
But let’s toy with that “worst nightmare” for a sec. What if your relationship ends while you’re gone? Mine did, and countless others’ as well. It hurts to realize that we no longer fit with someone, or our value in their eyes was not equivalent to their value in our own. But imagine the countless months you might have wasted, slowly chugging along to the same outcome with plenty of drama to spare, if you had never cleared some space. Think of the people you’d never have met, and the outrageous love affairs you wouldn’t have laughed about with your friends years later.
Never forget the possibility that distance may strengthen bonds in ways you never imagined possible. Your fodder for conversations and personal magnetism will expand as you see the world. Your absence will demonstrate to those left behind your important place in their lives. Maybe your relationship has been rocky lately, and two weeks abroad is all it will take to reaffirm that you were totally-completely-foreverandever in love. People get sexier when you leave them to their own devices for a little while–to grow, to live, and to dream (about you).
This goes for friends too. Look at your semester abroad as an experiment. You may find that the most unexpected people continuously check in with you. On the other hand, you may find that you have no interest in what your former suite-mate is up to at softball practice. This is your time to see the lay of the land, and appreciate the people who take the time to stay in touch with you. It’s a chance to test your own level of commitment to relationships, and grow into new webs of friends.
Don’t let fear of the truth stop you from a well-timed globe trot. Instead, make peace with this chance to prune your friends list. You may be thrilled to see who is waiting at the airport on your glorious homecoming. Or perhaps you’ll be more thrilled by who won’t.