I hate flying.
I don’t remember when I first developed this fear because many childhood memories include me on a plane en route to visit family in Jamaica. I spent those early trips unbothered, but then it was like I woke up one day and suddenly just the thought of an airplane sent me into a panic.
In 2011, I got news from my study abroad department that my application was accepted and I would be doing my entire junior year abroad in London. I was thrilled. Even as a high school student, I have always known that the single most important college experience for me would be studying abroad.
The only thing standing between me and my dream of a lifetime was a 7 hour plane ride.
As soon as I purchased my tickets, I marked it down on a calendar and spent most of that summer tightly wound. I divided my time between researching plane crashes and turbulence (so I could be prepared for anything) and discovering homeopathic anxiety remedies (so I could stay calm during a worst case scenario).
By the time my departure date finally arrived, I was a coiled ball of nerves and excitement. As I said goodbye to my family at JFK and made the journey past security to my gate, I was sure I’d pass out from sheer emotion all before boarding.
I barely remember the plane ride itself. It could have been the three glasses of red wine I guzzled in an attempt to self-soothe. Or it could have been the fact that it was a red-eye flight so, my body rebelled and kept me in a groggy haze. Whatever the reason, before I knew it, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and announced our descent into Heathrow. My first solo plane ride was complete.
My time in London continued in that same fashion: as a series of firsts. My first solo plane ride. Opening my first bank account. Navigating unfamiliar streets of a new city all alone.
When I started my freshman year of college in a tiny hippie town in upstate New York, I thought I had known what change meant. But I also knew that home was only a two hour bus trip away. Any independence I had felt was lessened by the reality that I could visit home anytime I wanted. London was not like that. For the first time in my life, I was truly on my own.
Initially, it was scary.
I struggle anxiety so at times even the most mundane tasks are a challenge for me. During my first trip to the main shopping center, I felt totally out of my element. I needed bed sheets, cutlery, and plates. These were all things I’d never had to purchase before. The thought of having buy them all at once made me jittery and nervous.
Having to do my shopping completely alone was also a new experience.
I had to get used to the fact that there were no familiar faces in the halls of my university. For the first time in years, I’d have no one to call for a last-minute lunch between classes or a study session in the library.
It was a huge adjustment.
I was so used to having my on-campus friends break up the monotony of the academic day. I grew jealous of the friend groups I saw around me but remained too shy to approach any of them.
I didn’t want to spend my entire time abroad as a shut-in, so I had to do the scariest thing for a person with anxiety: I had to confront these fears head-on.
If I wanted to eat I had to embark on a solo-grocery shopping trip. And if I wanted friends, I had to leap out of my comfort zone and meet new people.
Once I realized that I could control and shape my experiences in London, I felt more secure and less anxious. I was able to find a balance between cultivating a social life, keeping up with academia, and creating safe home away from home in my flat.
From the moment I boarded that plane to England, I started on an unknown journey. It would have been so easy for me to decide against my trip and to instead spend all four years on my US campus. I’m glad I chose not to.
I like to jokingly say that London was the city that “birthed” me and in many ways it truly did.
I arrived an unsure, high strung girl, and left an independent, self-possessed woman.