It wasn’t until I was sitting down in the row of a theater in London, right in between two friends I had made through IFSA, witnessing the one on my right, IK, shamelessly engage with and scream at the actors on stage that I thought to myself “I have never met someone quite like him.”
It also wasn’t the first time in my experience abroad that I had such a thought, and certainly not the last. IK, amongst others, taught me more about authenticity than he realizes during the semester. He is the type of person whose laugh you can hear throughout an entire building, and whose voice announces his entrance before his actual physical presence does. And although he may possess the worst luck (or best, depending on how you see it), it seems as if he has no worries in the world. In fact, he’s the type of person to get his phone stolen from him and walk through the airport with a smile on his face a few hours later, ready for his next adventure (and this is based on a series of true events). Meeting him, and being around him, taught me that life is only as complicated as we make it. Edla’s spontaneity taught me to live in the present moment, Ohegosa’s genuineness taught me about vulnerability in the most beautiful form, Nora’s sweetness and way of life taught me about taking care of the people surrounding me, Kendrice taught me to take risks and set high standards for myself…These names may not mean much to you, but they’ve shaped an entire experience and brand-new point of view for me. Even now, sitting down in a coffee shop thinking of how to word this best, tears brim my eyes at the thought of leaving this behind, and of the nearing end of this adventure.
Before you submit that application, sign those papers, or even take that plane, nobody dares to tell you the most important part about studying abroad. Nobody tells you that you enter a brand-new world, the universe even, with a way of living that might be completely different from yours, in a country with a divergent culture, and that you may encounter the most bizarre, special, and heart-warming people ever. You’ve met with something you didn’t even know existed; you connect with people you could’ve never thought of making up, but most importantly, you end up finding yourself in every and each one of them. Before stepping foot in London on a gloomy January day, I told myself to let go of any fears, and to be open to everything that comes my way. If I had any advice to give someone considering such an amazing opportunity, it would be this. Because in those instants where you hesitate to get acquainted with that stranger, attend that event, or even get out of the house, it’s a thought that may change your life forever.
Shaina Gabala is a student at John Hopkins University and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of London in the Spring 2022 semester.