And why sometimes they’re the best thing
Leaving my friends behind for a year to go and study abroad was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. After two years of getting to know a group of incredible people and forming an amazing family around me, I now had to leave it all behind and start fresh. The thing that killed me the most was that for an entire year, I was going to miss out on not only large milestones in my friends’ lives (and they in mine), but also the little things—sitting together in the SciLi basement at 1 a.m., crying over midterms; catching the midnight showings of random movies at Providence Place Mall; and going on donut runs on Sunday mornings, head pounding from the four hours of sleep we’d enjoyed the night before.
The first month of being away from all of that was hard. I watched as my friends filtered into Providence one by one at the end of the summer, grouping together, going on Starbucks runs, and having wine and movie nights in their brand new apartment. Of course, they sent me Snaps and messaged me frequently to let me know that they hadn’t forgotten about me, and I appreciated it to no end. But at the same time, a nagging feeling inside told me that I was missing out on simple yet meaningful moments that I would never be able to make up.
The first week at Oxford was quite challenging. When I went clubbing, I’d hear songs that my friends and I used to listen to, and I’d get so sad. I’d come back home to my single room every evening and miss seeing my equally-stressed roommate. I’d miss talking to—and freaking screaming with—her into the early hours of the morning. I’d miss being able to just wander into my housemates’ rooms to get a hug when I was feeling down. After two whole years, I was once more thrown into the lion’s den of talking to complete strangers and trying to build a home in which I could be comfortable and thrive.
But then, gradually, something happened. Little by little, I made connections around me and formed a stable routine. I had the most random conversations—about politics, religion, and love—with strangers who then became my friends, and in their own small ways, they enabled me to see things in a different light.
As soon as I stopped comparing everything—and everyone—in Oxford to Providence, I started to remember how lucky I am to be here. This is a city teeming with history, the place where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll brainstormed and wrote some of English literature’s most iconic works, and where in 1141, Empress Matilda escaped her captors by climbing down St. George’s tower in a white bed sheet and running for her life across a freezing lake. This is a place of revolution, of discovery, of creativity, of heartbreak, of stress, and of laughter. Being in the midst of these phenomenal minds, and walking alongside the ghosts of hundreds of years of academic prestige and cultural revolution, is an indescribable feeling.
Yes, the workload is not ideal. I live between my desk and the Radcliffe Camera (“Radcam”), the History Faculty Library that also happens to be the iconic dome in every Oxford logo and postcard. Every single day, I spend hours and hours reading, preparing an essay, stressing about presenting said essay at my tutorial, and then starting the process all over again. There are no “rest days.” The phrase “it’s not a sprint, but a marathon” has never felt more real. At the same time, however, the college bar serves pretty decent cocktails, and every night of the week there is some form of club night or other where my new friends and I dance the night away to Top 40 bangers from the last decade and a half (seriously, I somehow managed to jam to “Get Busy” by Sean Paul and “Galway Girl” by Ed Sheeran on the same night). We’re all stressed, and we all work so incredibly hard to prove to ourselves that we can do what we think is impossible and actually be good at it. Yet, we play hard and make sure to drag each other out and have fun.
I am aware that my study abroad experience is different from most. I can’t travel every weekend because I’m stuck in the library preparing an essay and presentation. While most study abroad experiences are fun with a sprinkle of academics, Oxford is pretty much academics with a sprinkle of fun. But the fact that my peers and I stress in solidarity has helped us bond, and I live for the nights when, after a long day of studying, we chill in the pub, get drunk on beers, and have really deep conversations about life.
It’s only been a month, but I feel like I’ve been here for so much longer. For that, I am grateful. I didn’t realize just how much I needed to be here, in a new place with (mostly) new people and a life that didn’t remind me of the stresses and insecurities I felt my freshman and sophomore years. Helping the first-years navigate the topsy-turvy world of college has helped me mature and, for the first time, take on the role of mentor and big sister. Meanwhile, chilling with the second- and third-years who don’t seem to be as stressed with the job search as people back home has helped me take a step back and stop worrying so darn much. And, most excitingly, I am lucky enough to have my childhood best friend—my Facebook wife of six years—studying at one of the colleges near mine, which has made the transition so much easier.
Living away from an environment I thought I couldn’t live without has ironically done me worlds of good. That’s not to say anything against the places and people I’ve temporarily left behind, because they continue to be a huge part of my life and my heart that I will no doubt cherish forever. But being in a different environment has allowed me to see myself, and the world around me, in a different light. A breath of fresh air can clear your mind, and in many ways, this new beginning has done just that.
Meeting tons of new people, I’ve been exposed to novel ideas and absurd study-career paths that have helped me expand my own horizons. I’m friends with people studying Ancient Chinese and Latin who eventually aspire to either work in publishing or finance; a teammate of mine studies Geography and will live in Burma for a year as a part of her course; another one of my friends studies politics and eventually wants to run an NGO. The world is so much bigger than the bubble I was used to living in, and breaking free from my norms and trying new things feels amazing.
So as the days go on and each stress is replaced by a new one, I’m starting to realize that happiness is not the absence of worry. Instead, it is rooted in being sure enough of yourself to know that you can get through it all, and it is letting yourself have faith in those around you. By seeing the good in them, and knowing that they will help me if I’m only brave enough to ask, I remember that I am not facing this new adventure alone.
This new beginning has helped me grow, live in the moment, and for the first time in forever, appreciate the inexplicable, ever-exciting beauty of the present.