There is a huge stigma associated with mental health issues in the United States, and this causes people struggling with them to pretend they don’t exist. I was, and am, lucky because I had one of the strongest support systems in my parents that anyone could have wished for.
I had people to talk to and, more importantly, I had people who made me feel like everything was going to be okay. Sometimes, however, even the best support system in the world is not enough to make everything okay; I still felt lost. My relief came from the most unexpected place: Edinburgh, Scotland.
Finding my Place
Even before I chose what college I was going to attend, I knew I wanted to study abroad.
This was something I had been looking forward to since my freshman year and there was nothing that could possibly get in my way of going.
Naturally, I was pretty thrown when the year I had been waiting for finally arrived and I was struggling with simply motivating myself to get out of bed in the morning.
Suddenly, the one thing that had always been a constant desire in my life seemed just slightly out of reach. How was I supposed to jet off to a different continent for an entire semester when I was feeling like this? I decided to go through the application process anyway, and then I sat and waited for what seemed like an eternity to find out if I would be accepted.
Finally, on a day when I needed it the most, I got my acceptance email and the rest of my semester turned into a blur of planning. Even when everything else seemed like a dark hole, thinking about leaving for Scotland was the light at the end of the tunnel.
A Whirlwind of Emotions
Even though I was excited, I was also nervous to leave. I was not sure it was the right time in my life to do it. I didn’t know if I would be able to manage being so far from home at a time when I was feeling so lost and vulnerable.
I don’t like surprises; I like to know exactly what I am getting into and I like to know how things are going to end.
I am the type of person who reads the last page of a book first because if some character that I am going to become attached to is going to die, I want to be prepared.
Given all of this, it might come as a surprise to many people that I ever wanted to study abroad in the first place. I am not good with change, I do not like surprises, and my anxiety level is constantly above 100.
But, before I knew it, I was way up in the air on my way to Edinburgh and it was too late to change my mind.
When I arrived in Scotland, I was running (maybe sprinting) away from my tiny 2000 person college. To say I was ready for a change of scenery would be the understatement of the century. I had no idea what to expect but I knew that I needed this more than anything. Scotland turned out to be everything I needed and more.
For the first time in my life, I had no idea how something was going to end.
I had no idea what I was doing one day to the next, I was planning trips to countries I had never been to, I was eating food that was nothing short of questionable, and I would constantly find myself walking around aimlessly because I was so lost I genuinely had no idea which way to turn.
For the first time in my life I had opened myself up to surprises, and it was exhilarating.
The moment I stopped concerning myself with every little detail was the moment everything changed for me. Suddenly, the darkness that had felt so overwhelming for the months leading up to my departure began to dissipate.
Suddenly, spending time alone felt freeing instead of lonely.
My Turning Point
Suddenly, the agonizing insecurities that had felt so obvious to me for so many years were being replaced by a newfound confidence that I could do anything.
Next thing I knew, I was on top of Arthur’s Seat and realizing that Edinburgh had caught me and saved me.
Edinburgh taught me to find the beauty in even the darkest days. Actually, this is really not an exaggeration because 90% of the days we were here were extremely dark.
It showed me how to find joy in even the most monotonous activities. Edinburgh showed me that culture shock is the best thing that can happen because it forces you out of your comfort zone and opens your eyes to how different cultures live.
Learning outside of the Classroom
I would be lying if I said that my study abroad experience was not marked by nights I stayed out later than I should have, the weekends I ditched the books for a new country, and the days I pretended that my adult responsibilities did not apply while I was abroad.
When I am reflecting upon time abroad, however, the thing that sticks out the most is how I felt while I was over there and how it completely changed me for the better.
I remember taking in the overwhelming beauty of the sunrise over Calton Hill. I remember feeling on top of the world at the peak of Arthur’s Seat, while simultaneously feeling as though the wind was going to knock me over.
I remember the feeling of landing in a different country and having no idea what to expect and feeling utterly terrified but being completely okay with that.
Most importantly, I remember the feeling of sheer joy that accompanied me in every single thing I did—a feeling that I had not felt so completely since high school.
Fast forward: it is now 10 months after I first landed in Edinburgh and I frequently find myself longing for the city that changed me so deeply and for the way that I felt while I was there.
Whenever I am feeling this way I remember a quote from E.E. Cummings, “It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are.”
Well, I like to think Edinburgh allowed me to become who I am really meant to be, which means that now is when the courage to remember who that person is kicks in.
Accepting that it is over is nearly impossible, but knowing the impact that it had on my life makes it seem okay.
So, cheers to the city that let me become who I am, the people who accepted me unconditionally, and the adventure that has changed my life forever.
Madeline Alagia is a student at Rhodes College and studied abroad with IFSA in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh in Spring 2016.