I’ve always been a very independent person.
I never wanted to rely on other people’s money, and I always tried to be happy spending time alone. It worked out for the most part, but around age 17 or 18 I began feeling lonely.
I had just finished high school, moved across the country, and knew just about no body. I thought I’d be able to take this challenge by storm, but it turns out I wasn’t; I wasn’t ready to be turned down and I wasn’t ready to have people use my naïvety against me.
Having grown up in a small town, I hadn’t needed to make friends since I was about eleven years old. Yet here I found myself in a big city and my social circle just wasn’t growing. I made friends at work, and a few at the new university I was attending, but I just felt lonely. I was an 18 year old girl who just wasn’t finding people to connect with and I blamed myself for that. Was I not pretty enough? Funny enough? Cool enough?
By the end of my freshman year, I had made one girlfriend that I considered my best friend. We just clicked (and still do!) I loved everything about her. But besides that I didn’t have much. My work friends were starting to call me annoying and stupid and I didn’t stand up to them. I started to believe them when they told me I “wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”
That’s when I decided to study abroad.
I decided to go somewhere where no one knew my name and I could reinvent myself as an accepted woman. My main objective with study abroad was to push myself so far out of my comfort zone that I wasn’t scared of anything or intimidated by anyone. And guess what? It worked!
August 27th, 2013, I arrived in Italy. A man hired by the school picked me up, and he spoke no English. Literally not a single word (Holy crap did that scare me!) I was one of the first students he found (he was picking up about ten of us that day) and I didn’t know if he was the man I was supposed to follow or if I was following a man who was about to kidnap me. As he found more students we all talked and realized yes, we were all in the same program, and no, we were not about to be kidnapped.
Once we arrived in the town I was to spend a semester in, I was met by my host mother who (surprise!) didn’t speak English. She knew some basics that sounded like, “Hi. Nice meet Jamie, when birthday?” My first thought was “Oh shit, what did I just get myself into?”
I then became consciously aware of my fear, and so I forced myself not to run away from it.
Within a week of living with my host family, I was speaking Italian (with about 2% fluency), and I wasn’t scared! I wasn’t scared about the fact that I had no idea what I was saying or if I wasn’t making any sense at all. That alone made my confidence sky rocket.
My first trip during my study abroad program was to Cinque Terre, a gorgeous area in northern Italy. I went with two other girls and a guy, all of whom I’d learned to love dearly in the three weeks I’d known them. At the time, the “easy” hikes were all closed due to heavy rains a few months previous. This left us with the “difficult” hikes. The super fit girl we were with (bless her soul) told us it would be fine and that we could do it no problem.
We did it, but dear god it was anything but easy. There were tears, endless breathless moments, about six times proclaiming “I quit!” but I finished it. And that alone felt better than anything I had felt in a long time. I did something I never thought I could do; I was so proud of myself.
Come October 2013, I had fallen in love with a local man. And he was in love with someone else (don’t worry, we’ve been happily dating now for 3 years! You can read all about it here.) There’s something about a guy telling you that he’s in love with another girl that makes you want to get as far away as possible. So I booked a trip to the United Kingdom for a few days later.
When I arrived in London, I suddenly realized I had no idea how to get from the airport to the city center. After completing that mission and ending up at the central station, I then realized I had no idea how to get to my hostel.
After about 15 minutes of staring at the map aimlessly, I built some courage up and asked a stranger for some help. It turned out my hostel was only about a 10 minute walk, and I got there just fine. Better yet, the walk was an experienced I’ll never forget. I was in London and I had gotten there by myself, for myself, with my own money.
During the walk to my hostel, I was suddenly washed over with this intense feeling of self-satisfaction.
In that semester, I went on a few more trips, and each one brought more confidence, which in turn made me love myself that much more. I realized how capable I was, and nothing could have brought more self-love than that.
At the end of that semester, I decided to stay another semester. I was lucky enough to be able to work out the finances and make it happen. Within that semester, I went to Spain, Poland, and Greece. Being able to simply arrive where you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to is a huge feat. Each time I successfully did this, I learned to love myself a little more.
By far the biggest thing that brought me confidence was the people I met along the way. So many people have treated me with such love and such respect without even knowing me. It gave me the reassurance that I am enough and I am a beautiful person; on the inside especially.
Being kind is more important than any other quality a person can have, and through travel I realized I do have that quality. It was through travel I was able to get a grasp on who I am by surrounding myself with people of similar qualities. All of these individuals taught me that I am valuable as a person, just as I taught them that they are valuable as people, as well.