When I made the decision to study abroad, I did so with the expectation of being alone.
I figured I would be an independent traveler of sorts, captaining my own travels without influence from others.
This initial feeling was further enforced when I discovered I was the only person from the University of Idaho enrolled in my specific program in Viterbo, Italy.
After arriving, that former thought of independence transformed into loneliness as I watched my peers slowly grouping together. I sat with my suitcases near the back of the airport, having disembarked on a different flight than most.
Shortly, I came to realize, however, that my fellow students felt just as alone as I did.
We quickly bonded over mutual interests and odd quirks to escape the threat of being companionless in this alien city and any other cities we wished to travel to during our short time overseas.
Meeting these people turned out to be a fresh and welcome start. No one had any prior judgments or distrust toward one another because we were strangers, whose only true commonality was the backdrop to the four-month journey set before us — Viterbo. We had no choice but to be in this journey together.
As the days passed and the number of shared experiences grew in numbers, I’ve started to find myself enjoying the company of these interlopers more than some of the people I have spent my entire life knowing.
Despite these rushed friendships, I have found their bonds to be genuine because they are shared with a group of frank, hilarious and warm individuals who all come from different cities and backgrounds who never had a chance of meeting otherwise.
I’m even beginning to wonder who it will be harder to say goodbye to at the end of the program: my new friends or my once-foreign city?
My current guess lies with the former because without these specific people I don’t think I would have found a home so fast in this small medieval Italian town.
I do believe I could have had an enjoyable trip wallowing in my newfound international independence — I am in Europe, after all. But now, I don’t really care to find, nor will I have to.
Although I wasn’t at first, I am now glad that I am making this journey here by myself because it has forced me fully out of my comfort zone, which I think is the entire point of studying abroad. A small amount of loneliness is absolutely worth the different perspective it can foster, and most importantly, the ties it can create.
It is incredibly easy to get caught up in all the things you want to do during your time abroad, but trust me, it better to have people accompanying you while you accomplish them. Who else is going to take your photo?
These thoughts and feelings could change drastically in the span of my remaining months overseas. But as of now, I have a family of sorts who can empathize in ways my actual family cannot.I suppose you can’t really captain your own destiny without a crew sitting beside you, and I am extremely lucky to have found mine.
Olivia Heersink can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @oliviaheersink