4 Things I Would Tell My Younger Self About Being Alone Abroad.
Unsplash Photo by Anthony Tran
Years ago when I stepped on that plane to Chile all by myself, during that 9-hour flight, I stressed and worried about what the future held. I was going to be by myself. In a foreign country. With no friends & no job. And to top it off my Spanish skills ended after Hola, ¿Cómo estás? & Me llamo Mary Martha. Naturally, my brain was stacked full of all of the things that could go wrong. Ironically enough, I didn't give a lot of mental space to how difficult being alone would be.
And this brings me to the present moment. As this year that felt like a decade, creeps to a close I've been thinking a lot about the concept of being alone. Although this at times is DIFFICULT (capitalized for dramatic emphasis) it's also essential to our growth as human beings. Anyone who has ever started over in a different part of the world (or city) knows this all too well. They also know that they wouldn't be where they are today without those hard times being on their own.
With these thoughts tumbling around in my head, and 4+ years of what feels like millions of hours of experience of being alone (can I put that on my resumé?!), I have a few things to say to my younger self about being alone abroad.
Here we go in 1, 2, 3...
1: Without taking the time to get to know yourself, you can’t really know who you are.
Before coming to Chile, I really thought I knew who I was, what I wanted, and all of that stuff. The truth is, back in the U.S. I was always surrounded by someone, whether it was coworkers, friends, or family. Being constantly surrounded by others who knew me, made me feel like I knew myself. It took coming to Chile and being 100% on my own to realize that their opinion of me wasn’t necessarily who I was - and that I needed to figure that out on my own.
This isn’t to say this is everyone's experience moving abroad alone, or to a different city alone - but as a 24-year-old who had never lived outside of her hometown - I had a lot of introspection to do, and luckily for me, I had what felt like an eternity of alone time to do it. It took me a couple of years to embrace the process of getting to know myself. In the beginning, I surrounded myself with other people who would make me feel a little more at home but in turn just felt like I got further and further away from who I really was.
So, what would I tell my eager, 24-year-old self or any young twenty-something woman in search of her dreams and turn - herself? Take the time to get to know yourself. You need to be alone to do this. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, no one really feels comfortable with being alone with their thoughts (especially at first) - but you can’t get to know yourself without this process.
This can be done by writing in a journal, going on walks, or even talking to a therapist. Think of all of the alone time as a master class in getting to know yourself. The clarity and understanding of your true self that you’ll gain will be priceless in achieving your inner happiness and acceptance of all that you are.
2. You will appreciate your loved ones back home more than you knew you could.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder in romantic love but don’t write off platonic or family love either! Not everyone you meet will be able to fill the space in the same way your clique did back home, and that’s okay. They aren’t meant to anyway! Personally, I took for granted the warmth and love of the people I was surrounded by back home, and for the first couple of years, unsuccessfully tried to fill those gaps with friends I made in Chile.
No matter how many friends you make abroad, no one can fill the place of your family and friends back home. If you have a similar experience that I did and find yourself alone a lot, this is a great time to call your family & friends back home. Just because you’re not there doesn’t mean that your relationship with friends and family can’t grow from afar. You’ll be surprised at just how much your relationship can grow with phone calls alone.
You might be thinking, what does this have to do with being alone?? Well, sometimes it takes a bit of distance to gain a better perspective on the people in your life. This one is a double-edged sword because if we spend too much time on the phone, it gets harder to live in the present moment, but there’s nothing wrong with taking solace in the love of your family - and being grateful for it amidst the loneliness.
What would I say to my younger self, or any young-twenty something moving away for the first time? When you’re having an especially sad day, pick up the phone and call a family member or friend from back home. Just because you’re alone abroad - doesn’t mean you can’t lean on loved ones for support from afar ;).
3: Embrace the words "This too shall pass" to create perspective, and remember that your pain isn't a forever thing.
This too shall pass are some of the most comforting words in the English language. Am I right, or am I right? Being alone in a foreign country, while navigating the language, and figuring out a new job can be a very isolating experience. At the risk of sounding cliche, these are the moments where it’s most important to maintain the perspective that this painful time in your life is not your entire life. It’s just a chapter in the book.
Loneliness is a feeling that is all too common, whether you’re alone or not, and sometimes the only way through it is well, through it. There are times where you will be alone and you’ll enjoy this alone time, enjoying your own presence as if you were with a good friend. Then there are the times where you are counting the minutes until it will be over. Either way, embrace the fact that it won’t last forever so enjoy the time if it’s going well, or be patient and extra kind to yourself if it’s more of an emotional roller coaster that only goes down.
Side note: don’t assume that the people you follow on Social Media don’t feel just as alone as you do - even if they project otherwise. Although loneliness is defined as feeling sad by being alone - it’s possible to feel lonely around other people (or so I think). My point is basically this: you are not alone in your loneliness and your sadness about being alone will not last forever.
What would I say to my younger self? In these moments, make your favorite tea, take a bubble bath, put on tunes that make you feel the feels, draw, paint, write in your journal, etc. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel like it’s going to be okay - because it is.
4: Just because your “people” aren’t in the same city as you - doesn’t mean you are completely alone and have no one.
Once you make genuine connections abroad, it can be pretty disappointing when they move away. But just because your closest friends don’t live in the same city as you, doesn’t make your friendship any less significant, and it doesn’t make you “friendless” either. When we talk about long-distance relationships - most of the dialogue is about romantic relationships. In my experience, it’s actually way more common to have long-distance friendships so if this is your situation - you’re not the only one!
Out of all the things we’ve learned from this Pandemic, it’s that we are social beings who need social interactions at some level but that we can interact with each other via video calls, skype sessions, apps like houseparty, etc. and still feel close. I know, I know. It’s not the same!! You yell at the screen. I understand it isn’t the exact same as being in the physical presence of someone who makes you feel at home and brings you immense amounts of joy. But you know what? It’s a lot better than nothing (and there was a time where living abroad meant hardly any communication with friends and family back home). So, it could always be worse!
My concrete advice? Plan weekly calls to friends and family back home. Even though it’s not in person, sharing your ups and downs, laughing, and just “hanging out” on the phone or a video call will remind you that you aren’t alone and that you don’t need to be in the same city as someone to feel close to them.
Without taking the time to get to know yourself, you can't really know who you are.
Fill what feels like a never-ending amount of alone time with one task that will positively impact the rest of your life: get to know yourself & be open to getting to know you in general. We all feel like we already know who we are but you're on your own now and without the image of you from friends and family to serve as a guide - it's a great opportunity to define who you are, and who you want to be going forward.
You will appreciate your loved ones back home more than you knew you could.
Now that you're in a city where no one knows you, you'll feel a deeper sense of gratitude for the people back home who know you better than the back of their hands. It may seem odd that you can become closer to people by moving thousands of miles away, but there is nothing that makes you value your family more than being without them.
Embrace the words "This Too Shall Pass" to create perspective and remember that your pain won't last forever.
On the especially hard days, weeks, or months silently remind yourself that no pain is forever. Pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger - no judgment!), watch that movie that makes you ugly cry, ugly cry to your mom/best friend back home/etc., and then find something (nothing is too small) to bring a smile to your face. It'll be okay.
Just because your "people" aren't in the same city as you - doesn't mean you are friendless and don't have anyone.
We normalize long-distance romance but don't talk enough about long-distance friendships. #1 Long distance friendships are way more common than you think, especially as an adult.
#2 Go out there and make new friends, but don't force them to fill the shoes of your "clique" back home. They aren't meant to anyways!
That's it for now ;)! Leave a comment below and let us know what you would say to your younger self about being alone, feeling lonely, or any of the growing pains of moving away from home.