Before going abroad, one of my stressors in life was being independent. I have always been a very “go with the flow” kind of person, and that led me to let others make choices and plans. While that quality could be handy in social situations, I never gave myself the opportunity to focus on what I really wanted to do and how to make that happen. Because of that, I did not often experience the things that I wanted to by myself. I either went with people to do what they wanted to do or made sure I had people with me when I wanted to experience something. If I could not find someone to go with me to, say, a new coffee shop or to see a new movie, I wouldn’t do it.
When I first got to Dunedin, I knew that I needed to make the most of my time at University of Otago. When studying abroad for a semester, it is a pretty long time to be in a new place, but it still is a limited time. It’s impossible to experience everything that you possibly can in four and a half months, so for me, it was important to experience as much of the local culture and natural landscape as possible. For me, this meant saying yes to any opportunity to arise. However, I realized that was not enough. Following other people around the country was not going to fulfill my expectations for my time abroad. If I wanted to get the most out of my time, I needed to take control and think about what I wanted to do.
The first time I made myself do something on my own was when I needed to see a play for a class. It was actually a wonderful, relaxing experience. I felt a little anxious about it, but I was able to enjoy the play and analyze it on my own with nobody else’s opinions influencing mine immediately. On my walk back, I was able to take my time and make any stops that I wanted to. What’s more, I was making all of the choices. I actually thought about what I wanted to do in that moment, and then I did it. I was a very freeing experience, and it opened my eyes to the possibility of enjoying doing things on my own. That one simple experience increased my confidence in spending time with myself and doing things that I wanted to do.
A Spark Lit
One of the factors that pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone was realizing that I wanted to through talking with the people around me, including my kiwi IFSA Butler student mentor. At the very beginning of the semester, my student mentor talked with me about goals that I wanted to accomplish. Throughout the semester, as I expanded on my goals and realized new ones, she helped me alter them and find ways to accomplish each one. In the beginning, one of my goals that stuck out the most was taking in as much of New Zealand as I could. I realized that when I was talking to my student mentor about my progress on my goals, that goal was being fulfilled by travel ideas from other people. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when talking with her, it hit me that I hadn’t taken the initiative to plan any trips. I had not done enough research on what I wanted to see or do. That lit a fire under me to research my options, pick one, and do it.
A Weekend in Auckland
Throughout my semester, my growing independence culminated in a solo weekend trip to Auckland. To most people, a weekend trip by themselves might not sound very extreme, but for me it was massive. Towards the beginning of my semester, I could not even think about taking a trip by myself as a realistic possibility. However, as I experienced more and more outside of my comfort zone, I realized all that I wanted to do, and things that I wanted to do on my own. My first day in Auckland I walked around and explored the city. The second day I went to Waiheke Island (an island right off of Auckland) and took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. It was a fantastic trip to take by myself. The first day I was able to do a few impromptu things that other people would not have wanted to do, such as find the street that had the same name as my sister. I also went to the zoo that afternoon and got to spend as much time as I wanted in each exhibit. There was one particular exhibit with an emu and a bunch of wallabies in which I spent way too long. The bus tour of Waiheke Island had about 8 different stops at beaches, small shopping areas, and many vineyards. I was able to look through the different tour stops, and every single one I stopped at was one that I, myself, chose. I picked the ones that I wanted to experience instead of just going with the flow of what other people chose to do. It was fantastic to have that much control over my options.
A Bright Future
The pure freedom that I felt was so unique to that experience. If you are like me and you don’t actively search out adventures to have by yourself, studying abroad could open so many doors for you. Being abroad was the push that I needed to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way. To be independent. To learn to enjoy spending time with myself. While every study abroad experience is different, I fully believe that it is a learning and growing experience for everyone. Being back on campus, I have noticed the effect of that newfound independence and desire to try everything has had on me. When I had the opportunity to take on a leadership role in my sorority, I took it. When I wanted to plan and host an event to make the new members of my club feel invited, I took initiative and did it. Returning back to my home school with this new mind set has already opened doors for me and set me up for a great next year and a half of college.
Laura Twomey is a student at Trinity University and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand in 2017.