Going overseas was indeed one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It has had a lasting impact, an impact I feel every day of my life.
Being in Swansea, Wales for a whole semester, I had grown accustomed to biking along the Atlantic Coast Bay to class everyday, hiking amongst sheep-littered cliffs, more green than I could imagine, and walking the beach, just a quarter-mile from my dorm, on moonlit nights, contemplating the world and my place in it. However, I had also grown accustomed to days on end without seeing the sun, days without talking to anyone, and daily drenchings from riding an old, rusty bike in the rain, which never seemed to stop. Living such a life, completely out of my comfort zone, not knowing a soul, and not being oriented to my new community, I began to feel very depressed. I questioned why I had come and what I was doing there. I missed my friends, my boyfriend, Dagwood's sandwiches, and driving a car down Kirkwood. I missed feeling comfortable.
Yet the further I sank in this depression, the more compassionate and understanding of the human experience I became. I can now see how someone's emotional state truly affects their outlook on life and how they interact with others on a daily basis. Before this, I honestly had no concept of why people were ever rude, mean, and inconsiderate. Sure, we have all had our bad days, and this can influence how we treat others, but I had never had bad months. And in realizing this, through being depressed from being out of my comfort zone, my capacity for compassion and understanding has grown tremendously.
When someone commits an injustice to another human being, instead of so quickly judging them, I slow down and ask, "What is it in their life that is causing them to behave in this way? Where are the feelings stemming from? They must be facing some unhappiness in their life." I can relate on a level I had not known before. This has translated into my job at the Shalom Community Center, and into my daily life in my interactions with people. It has really affected how I see the world and deepened my understanding of the human experience tremendously.
After the first few months of isolation and depression, things did pick up! I began to make new friends who I still keep in contact with, from all over Britain as well as from North America. We had amazing times exploring the Gower Peninsula, on which Swansea was situated, kayaking in rivers around Great Britain, and exploring more of Europe. My travels to Paris, London, Bath, Amsterdam, and Malta are some of my most treasured memories. The pictures from these adventures are posted all over my room, and there is not a day that goes by that I don't look at them and sigh with nostalgia.
To have four months to explore my own growth and understanding through interacting with new cultures and putting myself out of my comfort zone was an absolutely invaluable experience. But it doesn't end there. The lessons I learned continue with me, and the biggest lesson was this. I don't need to be traveling or experiencing another culture to grow, I can do that right here in Bloomington through all the diverse people I meet and getting out of my comfort zone here, challenging myself to do new things and grow in ways I hadn't before. But that doesn't mean that I didn't need to study abroad to realize this! I still intend to travel, to experience as many cultures as I can fit into my life, and hopefully live in another culture soon by being in the Peace Corps. But to know I can grow and deepen my understanding anywhere I am is invaluable to know about myself. Thank you so much for letting this experience be a possibility for me. It has made a most tremendous difference.