The Feeling of Being Abroad

Haley Dunbrack University of Edinburgh, Scotland


September 26, 2016

It occurred to me today that I’ve been in Edinburgh for almost three weeks now. It went by so silently and quickly, as opposed to my first week here, when I was literally counting each day as it went by. I didn’t do this because I was particularly unhappy or upset, but because I couldn’t imagine being away from my family and friends for over three months, and it felt that each day was bringing me closer to them. In other words, I was feeling lonely.

At first, although I’ve wanted to study abroad since I can remember, coming to Scotland and trying to make friends was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a while. The meeting-people frenzy of my freshman year seems so far away now, and despite my comfort with introducing myself to new people, I didn’t realize that it’s a lot harder to do without a support network to fall back on. Meeting people at home is low-risk because my friends are always there even if I embarrass myself with awkward encounters or uncomfortable silences. Meeting people in Edinburgh, however, is significantly harder as my safety net is just over 3,000 miles away.

I like to consider myself an independent person. I am comfortable with myself and enjoy alone time to read or write, but facing a semester alone without friends is terrifying nonetheless. So, despite the kindness of the people around me and the orientation programs that both Arcadia and the University of Edinburgh created, I spent my first couple weeks just scared that I wouldn’t make friends and counted the days that I had been here, one by one… not a great way to feel while in a beautiful city far away from home.

Like all things, these feelings passed as I made friends, and discovered the type of person I want to be while I’m abroad. I feel as if I’ve been in Edinburgh for a few months at this point, and the days have begun to fly by – which, for me, is a sign that I’m comfortable with my surroundings. My initial feelings of complete loneliness have also dissipated, as well as my fear of being alone. I have actually begun to feel the need to be solitary in many ways that I never have before. I enjoy walking around and finding coffee shops in which I can spend a few hours either reading or writing, or just drinking hot chocolate and enjoying the view. I want to go places with friends and travel across Europe, but some of this I want to do by myself as well. I’ve always had the comfort of people around me, and coming to Edinburgh, that’s all I wanted. I wanted people to surround myself with and to feel safe with. And in many ways, I’ve found that, but I now realize the need for separation as well; for solitude.

Being in Scotland feels more normal now, even if I still miss the people I love. Walking down these ancient streets and exploring Edinburgh has now become the daily norm for me. I’m familiar with the unfamiliar, and I’m finally okay with this being my life for the next three months. I look forward to detailing the beautiful sights of Scotland in my upcoming blog posts, but writing about loneliness and being alone, and the important distinction between the two is therapeutic to say the least. So until then, here’s to friends and family and loneliness and solitude, and all of the happy things that all of these can make you feel simultaneously.