The Life Lessons I Learned From Studying Abroad Are Still So True In My 20s
If you met me for the very first time today, I would probably talk to you about two things: my latest snack finds at Trader's Joes and the amazing memories I have from studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I can't help it, because that semester filled with cobblestone streets, bowls of delicious seafood pasta, and long weekend trips to other countries in Europe was totally life-altering for me. It taught me so much about myself, the "real world," and what I'm passionate about, and treated me to endless cups of berry gelato in-between my art history classes. Now, I could tell you about the trips I took, or the restaurants I ate at, but I'd rather take some time to cover the life lessons I learned from studying abroad that are still with me.
These are the lessons that have carried me through my 20s, and will stick with me into the next decades of my life, too. They're a sweet and constant reminder of why studying abroad is a unique experience that you really should take advantage of when you're in college. They're also the sole reason why I'll always be the girl who raves about traveling in general.
Within those five months, I was exposed to lots of different cultures and picked up a new language, and it led me to catching flights and booking more trips once I got back to the United States. These are the five lessons that stick with me the most, though.
1. I'm Capable Of More Than I Give Myself Credit For
Over my first two years or so in college, I began to deal with a lot with anxiety. But that didn't keep me from filling out paperwork, hopping on a plane, and studying abroad.
I wanted to see the world, and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered how much traveling helps me cope with my anxiety. With every dip in the Mediterranean Sea or epic weekend trip, I learned that I can handle a lot more than I give myself credit for, and my self-confidence skyrocketed.
Throughout my 20s, reminding myself that I've navigated train stations in another language and hiked to the top of mountains has helped me continue to conquer my fears, doubts, and worries. Everyone deals with anxiety differently, but I'm happy that traveling taught me a unique way to deal with mine.
2. I Can Always Trust And Go With My Gut
When you're traveling, especially someplace you've never been before, I learned that going with my gut was essential. My semester abroad taught me to tune into this natural instinct, and then translate it into other situations in my 20s.
For example, I started recognizing my gut reactions in my friendships and relationships. I followed their cues and cut ties with people who were pretty toxic to me, my passions, and my future goals. When I was searching for an internship, and later a job, I listened to my gut during interviews to figure out which positions and companies would be a right fit for me.
Sure, there have still been times when my gut has clearly given me a sign and I've said, "No, thanks!" But, that's part of learning and living, too.
3. I Need To Be Open-Minded When Trying New Things
Growing up, I was always the type of kid who didn't agree to anything she didn't want to do. When I went to summer camp, I would dodge the ropes course with my close-minded attitude and the chilly swim lessons that seemed straight-up ridiculous. I would get really shy when people wanted to talk to me, and didn't dare try any snacks from somebody else's lunch, even if they had offered it to me.
Thankfully, as I got older and experienced more of the world, this attitude and mindset of mine changed a great deal. I leaped into new experiences, sports, friendships, and relationships with my whole heart, and learned how to be open-minded when trying new things.
Studying abroad was essential to me learning this lesson and carrying it into my 20s, because everything was new, from my apartment to the way I ordered food at a restaurant. It taught me to accept change and get excited about it, too. And for that, I owe my semester in Florence the world.
4. I Can't Take An Instagram Picture Of Everything
When I studied abroad, the term "Instagram-worthy" wasn't a thing yet. But, that didn't stop everyone (myself included) from posting the beautiful places they'd been during their semester abroad. In fact, entire hours of the day were still dedicated to photo shoots, editing, and doing something purely for the 'Gram.
My friends and I would roam around the streets lined with family-owned pizza places, place an order, and take a picture of the pie before stealing a bite. We would walk around with the camera app open on our phones, and spend hours at night going through the selfies and dreamy pics we got in Venice, Rome, Cinque Terre, and Milan.
It's in these moments that I learned this valuable, relatable, and modern lesson: You can't take a picture of everything. You have to be present in your experiences, take in the sights with your own two eyes, and accept that some memories are meant to be lived instead of captured.
5. My Life Was Meant To Be Creative And So Passionate
Last but not least, my semester abroad taught me that, for me, living is meant to be a creative and passionate thing. When I talked with the locals at my favorite panini shop or my Italian teachers in class, I was so in love with how their face lit up when they talked about their experiences or the art they had recently made. I wanted my face to always look the same way.
I instantly connected with their ability to look at the glass half full instead of half empty. I wanted to carry that spark with me.
So in my 20s, I've tried my best to bring that same light to anything I do, and to make time in my schedule for bringing my camera out, having deep conversations with the people I care about, and getting inspired. It makes the "real world" I'm living in much more incredible to be part of, and my study abroad experience richer in retrospect, too.