Everyone has the preconceived notion that while abroad they will become friends with locals, go out every night, and travel to countless exotic places. I learned, however, that it is better to go in with no expectations since chances are that nothing will be as expected. People’s pictures during their time abroad make it look glamorous and no one ever sees the low points. You never hear about the times where homesickness kicked in or the times where you felt so alone at 1:00 in the afternoon and it was 6:00 AM back in America and you had a few hours before you could call anyone to talk. Lucky for me, I became part of a family where I was just a few steps and a knock on the door away.
What was so great (and somewhat scary) about my program was that I was fully integrated into a British University. I took classes with British students and more importantly lived with students who attended the university full time. After being dropped off on campus, all of the American students on my program received our keys to our rooms and we dispersed. I found my dorm building and then made it to my flat. I opened the door to my room and it was quiet and unfamiliar. I immediately panicked. What was I doing in this unfamiliar country alone without any close friends? After a little while the panicky feeling subsided and I heard people in the flat’s kitchen. I’m usually an introvert but then was not the time to keep to myself. I pushed aside my nerves and walked out of my room to go meet my flat mates. Little did I know those were the people who would make my experience abroad so special.
There were nine of us in total in our flat. Three Americans, one Syrian, one Slovakian, and four British. We all came from such different places, and yet that is what made our friendships so extraordinary. My friends from home are all similar to myself-which is how we became friends in the first place. But my new friends here, who I quickly came to consider my family were all a little different-in the best way possible.
Like I said before, I am the quiet, level-headed girl from a small town in Connecticut. I like to plan everything out before going ahead with something and I usually have to be convinced to go out. Susan, one of the British girls, was exactly the opposite. She was crazy and loud and always ready to party. We were polar opposites, and yet, we became best friends. She would be the one to convince our whole flat to go out together whether it was going to a club or going to get lunch at Camden Market. Susan would never be someone I would have thought I would have been friends with back in the states, yet she was such an influential part of my abroad experience. Fiona, another Brit from Liverpool, was quite different from Susan. She was spunky, hot-headed, and didn’t let anyone get away with anything. She always made sure our flat hung out together and some of the most memorable times were of the two of us staying up until two in the morning talking about our craziest dreams and where we wanted to go in life. Emma and Makayla were quieter than the rest of us and were interested in the arts and would go off exploring during the day. Meme and Martin, on the other hand, were more cosmopolitan than the rest, having travelled all over the world. And to sum up the flat were Ben and Duncan. Ben was British and believed in romance and chivalry. He was constantly looking out for everyone and would always be there if anyone was homesick or upset about anything. Duncan was the rambunctious American who was always up for an adventure. We were all so different from each other and yet they were my family.
For the first month and a half I was abroad I travelled to different countries almost every weekend. Although I loved exploring Europe, by mid-November I realized that I missed spending time with my flat mates during the weekends. The last month of my time abroad was spent roaming around London at all hours of the day with who I considered to be my abroad family. We would all do things as a flat, whether it was ice skating, going for curry, exploring central London, or walking around one of London’s most eclectic markets. My flat mates taught me how to really live like a Brit, whether it was through the slang they used or the habits that were so different than ours in America. We would all hang out in our flat kitchen and talk for hours about anything and everything. Whenever one of our flat mates had a birthday the rest of us would cook dinner and get a gift and a card. We truly were one big happy family. They were the people I turned to when I was feeling homesick or if I just felt lonely.
On my last night there, the entire flat went grocery shopping together for our last meal. Susan and Fiona did all the cooking and wouldn’t let anyone else help. We ate a traditional British meal with a roast, Yorkshire puddings, turnips, and cranberry sauce. They also bought Christmas crackers-which I learned was a British tradition-and champagne to celebrate. My flat made cards for the Americans who were leaving and we all talked about when we would see each other again. Some of them are planning on coming to America next summer and we promised each other we would meet up. I can honestly say that saying goodbye to them was the hardest part of leaving. I fell in love with London and it was so hard to leave, but my friendship with my flat mates was the best thing I got out of going abroad.
We all stayed up until 3 AM that night just sitting in the kitchen not even saying much but simply spending as much time together as we could for the last time. I had to get up at 7 AM the next morning to get on the tube to Heathrow and my flat mates were all waiting for me when I walked out of my room for the last time. We all exchanged hugs and promises to keep in touch as I said goodbye one final time. Leaving my best friends without really knowing when I was going to see them again was the hardest part. I had no idea when I touched down in England early September that I would make lifelong friends. Those people are what truly made my abroad experience so meaningful. We shared countless memories, laughs, and even a few tears and I honestly think about them every day, wishing I could go back.
Sometimes people become content with where they are in their lives. Content with their friends. Content staying exactly where they are. And that’s completely fine. But there are so many incredible places to see in the world and so many people to meet who all tell a different story. The most liberating feeling is leaving everything you know and everyone you love behind and figuring things out as you go, in a place you’ve never been before with people you have yet to meet. Lucky for me, I met eight of the best people I know while abroad and I have no doubt that I will keep in touch with them for years to come. They were the ones who made my time abroad the best experience of my life and I know that no matter where we all are in the world, they will always be some of my best friends.