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Adversity Abroad

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We had missed our Oxford stop. My friend from back home and I were too absorbed in our conversations to realize the train had stopped at Oxford and the Oxford passengers had departed; so we were now in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside on small platform with only the trees and the cool autumn night wind for company. It was mid-November, so the wind was cold and our light jackets were just barely adequate for warmth. The next train was to arrive in an hour and a half, and there was no other place for us to go than the small metal bench parallel to the tracks. Our phones were dead, so there was no prospect of calling a cab. Tired and hungry from a day spent walking the streets of London, we sat on the cold bench and realized our supper would be two long hours away. Nevertheless, we sat and waited the hour and a half and simply rekindled that same conversation that had made us miss our stop. We waited patiently; the train came, and we arrived back in Oxford before 10 o’clock. The point of this anecdote is not to emphasize the importance of minding the train stops, which is of course very crucial, but is instead to focus on how being abroad forces one to truly become self-reliant and willing to accept change. I think this is one of the most important things that I learned from my study abroad experience. Of course, spending time in one of the premier educational institutions of the world was a tremendous experience that will influence my life for years to come, I was forced to become self-dependent. I was separated from my personal safety net by a vast ocean; I had to rely fully on my own intuitions. Going abroad inevitably entails an immersion into a different culture, but it also forces an individual to step back from his or her own experiences and realize that things are fundamentally different. Life does not necessarily have the same pace. Miscommunication or misunderstanding, discomfort with foreign customs, and generally being lost in a sea of foreignness are not only common sources of adversity, but more importantly can be seen as challenges to overcome. Being in England, I realized common tasks done in the United States were done differently, perhaps even a little slower, but also I understood there was something essential in just accepting these small foibles as a part of the experience. I think studying abroad forces one to leave one’s comfort zone and to learn to not only accept change but to embrace it. It creates a different mindset in which small examples of adversity are seen not as setbacks but as parts of the experience. Realizing that not everything will go as planned and learning to respond to that reality seems to be as important as discovering new foods and cultures. When I was stranded at the train platform, I didn’t panic and curse my circumstances, but instead I accepted my situation and knew that everything would eventually work out. I have carried my sensibility forward with me; I have learned to see challenges that occur to be simply a part of the ride rather than unnavigable obstacles.