I can’t tell you exactly when I promised myself that I’d travel and live abroad, because it was too early to remember. It was just something that I’d always known I’d eventually do. So when I was 19 years old, only a few months before COVID-19 hit, I moved to Madrid, Spain, and traveled around Europe for five months.
Because of my life-long conviction to live internationally, I had ample time to douse my dreams in unattainable and idealized expectations. I imagined that my time abroad would be perfect – I’d make all sorts of multicultural friends, change up my style, and pretty much live out the entire plot of the Lizzie Mcguire Movie and Monte Carlo.
I don’t even recognize the girl the I was before I embarked on this five-month journey.
While I will forever be grateful for my time in Europe for being exactly the way that it was, it was anything but my perfect pre-departure daydreams. It didn’t take long for me to realize this either.
Upon first moving to Spain, I became wildly depressed, and it clouded the ways in which I saw the world and interacted with other people. It’s probably not of any surprise that a debilitating crash of my mental health was not in any part of the plan. There are a lot of countries and experiences that I struggle to remember due to the fact that everything I saw was grey. I also (shockingly) didn’t become a pop star in Italy and sing in front of a large crowd in sparkly silver pants with Paolo, and I wasn’t invited to any yacht parties off of the coast of France.
I, instead, learned how to pivot emotionally when life didn’t go according to plan.
This is why I’m grateful. Of course, I would have loved to spend my days frolicking in the streets of Madrid rather than locking myself in my bedroom, but sometimes things change. Sometimes, for good reasons or no reason at all, you can’t find the energy to get out of bed or talk to anyone. The timing may have not been ideal, but it taught me something valuable and vital for the future.
Through the difficult process, while living and traveling Europe, I learned what it truly meant to be alone and how to be comfortable with that. I no longer had my circle of support from my university to rely on, and the time difference made it nearly impossible to call my family. Not to mention the fact that I was stared at by locals almost everywhere and treated as an outsider due to my “exotic” Black skin, which, incidentally, made finding new friends that much more difficult. I quickly learned that my international life would only be with me, myself, and I.
With this, I traveled to a different European country almost every weekend and made experiences of my own, which is something that no one can ever take away from me. It was just me and my suitcase in Zurich, Switzerland for one weekend and Milan, Italy the next. For five months, I existed within my own thoughts, which at times drove me absolutely insane, but ultimately helped me develop a strong sense of self.
I learned quickly that my international life would only be with me, myself, and I.
When I returned back to university in the United States, I had to confront people who hadn’t been through the same sort of life-changing experience that I had while living in Spain. I had to re-examine every single relationship in my life – I’m still figuring out what all of them mean to me.
Living and studying abroad was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done, but it was necessary. I don’t even recognize the girl that I was before I embarked on that five-month journey. I’m still processing the lessons that I’ve learned from living abroad and the toll that it took on my mental health.
I don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon, but I’m grateful for the lessons that it taught me. I saw things and places that I’d dreamt about for years and was forced to have conversations within myself that changed me into the woman I am today.
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