Thanksgiving having occurred last week, I felt the desire to reflect on my time here in Lyon (even though nobody in France celebrates this holiday)!
I’ve mentioned this before, but study abroad can be a life-altering experience. There are some lessons you cannot learn until you’re pushed out of your comfort zone. Language barriers, loneliness, and loss of control are familiar friends now that I’ve been in Europe for three months. Though I’ve loved every day here, there were weeks on end where I felt little motivation for anything. I would oversleep, under-study, and that really showed.
As a matter of fact, I’m almost 95% sure I failed my Fluid Mechanics class. No, I’m not exaggerating.
I recall staring at my twenty page final exam, covered in blank spaces I could not fill. I simply had no idea what to do. How could I, the product of 18 years of Asian parenting and deeply internalized perfectionism, have allowed that to happen?
But really, I knew the answer. The truth is, I’d been struggling for a while with seemingly unrelated issues. I felt alone. Though my French had improved vastly, I was still a foreigner. I couldn’t break into the cliques that had already formed in my class. I felt like a huge burden, relying on study buddies to explain material that I should’ve clarified with my professors. But I got complacent, and consequently procrastinated. I ate unhealthy foods and skipped the gym, which made my skin break out and my energy levels tank. These circumstances created an avalanche that spilled into other facets of my life– namely, my academics.
That’s the truth. No matter how many gorgeous landscapes I post, how many landmarks I see… it’s not all happy and fun and amazing. The struggle, sometimes, is very tangible.
But this post isn’t going to be me complaining about all of my woes. Rather, I’ve come to appreciate what this opportunity has granted me. And believe me, there have been so many wonderful things that have come out of this time. It’s all about reframing your perspective.
I’m thankful for my solitude. I have learned to be more independent and to be comfortable with myself. I know now that my loneliness is understandable– it’s not easy to make new friends when there’s a cultural difference. It doesn’t make me a failure, and if anything, it has granted me the opportunity to focus on myself and change. Sometimes the need for company comes from a lack of satisfaction with yourself– and I’m learning to like myself more.
I’m thankful for the cuisine. I admit, I worry about gaining weight while abroad. And while traveling through Italy (the land of pasta galore) and living in France (croissants! baguettes!), I’ve certainly gained a few pounds. For a while, this caused me serious distress. But in fact, I’m very, very privileged. To be here, and to be able to afford the dishes I’ve tried– that’s not something everyone gets to experience. And now, I know not to feel guilt for eating an unhealthy meal and to take it all in moderation. I don’t plan to look back on my study abroad and think, “Wow, I never tried Danish/German/Spanish food because I didn’t want to get fat”.
I’m thankful for the people I’ve met. I’ve learned not to focus on all the people I haven’t befriended. With the time constraints and challenges I face, it’s simply not realistic to beat myself up for not fully assimilating. Instead, I’m grateful for the friends with whom I have traveled, who’ve helped me prepare for exams, and who have tried new restaurants with me. I’m really lucky to have met such fun, interesting, and like-minded friends.
I could go on and on about all the experiences I’ve had and the adventures I’ve gone on. But my point today is that it’s so, so important to appreciate what you have instead of lamenting what you lack. This was a valuable lesson, one I strongly believe I would not have realized if I didn’t choose to come here, struggle, and learn to be alone. Now, with only a month left (how can that be the case!?), I plan to make the most of my time. It’s easier said than done, but I think my new-found perspective might just take me a long way.