I was a freshman in high school when I learned that college students could choose to study in a foreign country. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to take advantage of the incredible opportunity and anticipated the day that I would embark on my own adventure abroad. When that day finally arrived, and I flew off to London, my anxiety intensified. I couldn’t help but worry that somehow I was going to mess this opportunity up. Somehow, I was going to make the wrong decisions and prevent myself from having the experience of a lifetime.
Now, some of you may find this fear ridiculous. You may wonder how on earth five and a half months in the vibrant city of London could be anything but the experience of a lifetime. However if, like me, you suffer from anxiety, you may understand better. My anxiety often leads to a lot of questioning and a lot of self-doubt. On a daily basis, I ask myself whether or not I studied enough for an exam. I question my word choice during a conversation or second-guess my weekend plans.
My Anxiety Told Me I was Missing Out
While abroad, the questions multiplied and the stakes felt even higher. I preferred the atmosphere at small pubs, but wondered if I was missing out on London nightclubs. I was really interested in spending quality time exploring the city of London, but also worried that I hadn’t made enough travel plans. My classes excited and intrigued me, but sometimes I panicked that I was too invested in academics. Suddenly, I was questioning all of my decisions abroad. Instead of enjoying the present moment, I was thinking about the future. I was considering whether or not I would regret or revel in that moment years from now.
Social media certainly didn’t ease these feelings. Dozens of peers from my home institution were also studying abroad that semester and I found myself comparing their experiences to my own. When I came across photos of them at massive raves, my countless nights at a local haunt called The Thirsty Bear seemed mediocre. I noticed that some of my friends were in a different country every weekend while I merely explored a new borough of London. They certainly didn’t post as many photos of libraries or book shops as I did. After considering their experiences and comparing them to my own, a scary question formed in my mind:
Was I doing study abroad wrong?
As someone who had looked forward to studying abroad for years, this was an overwhelming thought and one that I didn’t want to continue thinking for five and a half months.
Making Study Abroad My Own
After that, I forced myself to sit down and really think about why I decided to study abroad, and why I specifically chose to study in London. I recalled my nerdy desire to study English literature at a respectable English university like King’s College London. I remembered my longing to not only live in a city like London, but really navigate it like a true local. These were just some of the many goals I had for my experience abroad.
My contemplation made me realize that I had specific aspirations for my abroad experience and that my peers probably did too. I also realized that these aspirations probably weren’t the same, and most importantly, I realized that this was normal. One of the major attractions of studying abroad is that it is a unique experience. It’s supposed to be an experience that does not compare to any other that either you or somebody else has had before.
When I came to this realization, my experience abroad became even more rewarding. Instead of constantly worrying whether or not I was making the right choice, I simply made the choice and enjoyed every moment of it. My laid-back nights at the pub produced some of the most meaningful conversations and friendships that I have ever had. My long hours in the library made me appreciate the material I was studying all the more, and my love for London only grew with every weekend I stayed there. I even mastered the tube! Once I stopped questioning every decision, I became more in touch with the present moment and was able to enjoy it to the fullest, making each moment the experience of a lifetime.
Although it was hard to part with London when my time there came to an end, I have kept the city close to my heart each day since. Furthermore, I have held on to the confidence it instilled in me. I have learned that I should have faith in my decisions, knowing that they are the right ones for me, and that I cannot let my anxiety convince me otherwise.
I have learned to treat every day like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should be enjoyed without hesitation. There is no need to worry myself with questions about the future when there is a perfectly good present to enjoy. Never did I imagine that my study abroad experience would actually help me manage my anxiety disorder, yet here I am, living each and every day in a more mindful way.
Jacquelyn Kelley is an English and Creative Writing student at Providence College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at King’s College London in England in 2016.