Study Abroad: Being Uncomfortable Helped Me Grow

Big Almaty Lake in Kazakhstan

In college, I was deadset on working in foreign affairs and international development up until my senior year. Personally, it meant for me planning-participating in Model UN conferences, going after as many internships as possible and gaining more experiences abroad.

In fact, I devoted quite a few weekends applying for study abroad scholarships and coaching others through the process. Receiving the funding opportunities, I spent two gap years learning Russian and huge life lessons in Russia, Italy and Kazakhstan with hopes in interning with USAID or the State Department.

That being said, I’ll finally admit “в гостях хорошо, а дома лучше”–meaning that I began to miss the sunny California weather and appreciate cultural diversity back in Los Angeles. That’s not to say I would never leave the States again. I’d be excited to visit friends in those countries and explore more places in the future. However, I recognize my current need to recuperate and take some time off should I later pursue the international development route. Or do anything as ambitious!

Lessons Learned

Living abroad for an extended amount of time away from loved ones and comfort was entirely different from simply vacationing abroad. Those travels challenged me to find a new community of friends and family, and made room for my personal growth. I really learned how to take initiative in finding entertainment from enrolling in a ceramic class with locals to trying out new cuisines by myself.

And of course, like my first gap year in Russia, this second experience did push me to exercise my budgeting skills. Good life experience I would say!

Although I’ll always be glad to have those memories outside of the United States, I was frankly burnt out from being gone for a whole year. After returning home, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy committing to a life living in a rural setting, much less a remote part of a developing county.

In contrast to my previous romanticized version of working with locals to address water sanitation issues or advocate for greater access to technology, I saw that my rosy image of living abroad was quite naive. In reality, social change takes years which at that time frustrated me. I wasn’t quite patient enough. Additionally, I turned out to be much more of a high maintenance person than I knew before. I definitely needed some growing up to do.

Moreover, I needed to be honest with myself. I had to ask, “What makes me happy?”. Perhaps I was too quickly chasing a dream of a prestigious career, income stability and travel while neglecting my own mental health. I could have also taken more time to consider other options which might have also fit the same criteria; instead of stressing myself and gunning for a figuratively straight path to foreign affairs.

Note to self: There is no singular set way to get to your goals.

So, what DOES makes me happy? At the moment, I have rudimentary answers to that previous question like food, people and a sense of mission. So I’m certain, I’ll continue to gain clarity with additional time and thought.

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