What They Didn’t Tell Me About Studying Abroad

Today marks the fastest year of my life. This time last year, I just landed in Madrid from my first solo international (and intercontinental) flight. I was taking this mirror selfie in my flat, and I was talking to my landlords with my broken (and still broken) Spanish.

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Fast forward to now. I am taking my final coursework in France. I cannot count how many times I have said hello and goodbye to new and old friends. I am anxious about next semester’s internship, and my life after that.

After one year, some things really sunk in – which I didn’t realize when I first got here.

 

My future will be in limbo, indefinitely.

Coming here, I knew that my life would be “on pause” for two years. I had a stable career which I let go of. A long-term relationship which now thrives on long-distance. Those had to wait. I was certain that I will go back to the Philippines and pursue my career there, and I was certain that my boyfriend and I will get married and build a family together. I still am. But now, the geography and timeline are all messed up. Yes, I will go back. Someday. For sure. Yes, I will get married. Pretty soon. For sure. But when exactly? I don’t know. Where exactly will I be for the next couple of years? I don’t know. And I hate that I don’t know. The uncertainty eats me up. These are questions that keep me awake at night. But at the same time, I realize that these uncertainties exist because opportunities are also present. So, I am thankful

I am thankful that I am lost now, because I refused to stay where I was a year ago.

 

I won’t miss home as much as I thought, and that’s okay. 

Every day I want nothing more than to be with my boyfriend. I wish that I could see my sisters, that I could visit my lola any time I want. There are moments that I just crave for Chickenjoy and Peach Mango Pie. I want to watch MMFF, or the latest John Lloyd film. But, I don’t want to go home. Not just yet. I enjoy being alone and independent…of everyone and everything. I feel like I am playing bahay-bahayan and if I go home, then I’d have to face reality again. I miss the people sorely. But at the same time, I love where I am right now. And I should not feel guilty about that. I should not be guilty for being happy, because I am sure that the people I miss want nothing for me but to be happy.

 

I will feel young, but at the same time grow up 1,000x

Not being stressed with work and “real” responsibilities made me feel like a child, just playing around and discovering the world. I seriously haven’t drunk this often and this much, even during my undergrad. It also doesn’t help that wine here is dirt cheap. I have many weeks off that I just spend travelling, bumming around, or hanging out with friends. These things I didn’t really get to do back home.

But, I also think this is the most #adulting I have done since forever. More than the practical skills like having to find my own apartment, cooking, doing my own laundry, and learning how to open multiple bank accounts, I think living abroad makes you grow up because it shoves you out of your comfort zone. Without the safety net of family and old friends, or even the basic connection of using the same language, you either adapt or suffer. I’ve learned how to express myself when words are literally not enough. I’ve learned how to make family out of friends. I’ve learned how to make friends out of strangers from god-knows-where. Also, now more than ever, I feel responsible for my own fate. I have always operated on this principle. But because of the distance, I feel even more alone. As if all my successes and failures are up to me. As if all my joy and sadness are because of me…the way they always were. And I love this.

I feel free.

Honestly, my main reason for leaving home wasn’t just the education. MSc Energy Engineering in the University of the Philippines is pretty damn good. I can say that with confidence now. But, I came here because my greatest fear in life is to stagnate and be nothing more than a ball of wasted potential. And I was pretty sure that if I left, I wouldn’t allow myself to be that.

 

Every day, I will lose and find myself.

I know myself. I know that I need people to ground me – my family, best friend, and sisters. They remind me of who I am and the person I strive to be. Without them, and with the overwhelming newness that I encounter every day, it is very easy to lose my sense of self. It’s very easy to just go with the flow, to let go of my ideals. It’s very easy to let my inner demons pester, because no one in the outside can notice anyway. So, it is a struggle. It is a struggle to constantly check if the person that I am becoming is still the person I want to be. That’s why I started this journal in the first place. I hope that through this I always have clarity and control over my thoughts. I hope that I never veer too far, but instead build on my ideal self, every single day. ♦

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