When the plane touched down at London Heathrow, the reality slowly started to kick in. The song “You’re on Your Own Kid” by Taylor Swift blared through my headphones, and I never related more. I was really on my own. In a new country, a new city and had zero friends. My first couple of hours in London were met with problem after problem. I felt like I was an emotional rollercoaster from my data not working to spending an absurd amount of money on a taxi to Brighton. But as I sat in the overpriced taxi, incredibly tired from my overnight flight, I somehow felt so alive. Maybe it was the adrenaline finally kicking in or the butterflies fluttering in my body, but I couldn’t stop smiling as I neared my destination.
I was headed to the University of Sussex for a semester abroad.
The school is hidden in the South Downs of England, a couple of miles away from the small, lively beach town of Brighton. As the taxi driver drove into the university campus, I could see all the students moving into their dorms. I was hit with a pang of reminiscence because I remember moving into my freshman-year dorm three years ago, thinking about the future I had ahead of me. Soon, the reminiscing turned into sadness because I missed being young and naive, and I missed having endless amounts of time in college. And here I was, a senior, having one final year.
The taxi driver dropped me off at my accommodation, a group of buildings at the edge of campus with a small but lively bar across the street. With no Wi-Fi, no data and my two suitcases sitting in my bare room, I thought to myself, “Holy sh-t, I can’t believe I’m here.”
Shortly after arriving, I met some of my flatmates.
We bonded incredibly fast, and I couldn’t help but notice how different they were from my previous friends from Penn State.
The thing is, I’ve never been lucky when it comes to friendships. Each year of college, I cycled through friends, none of them sticking. And with the Penn State fencing team I thought was supposed to be my family, I felt the most alone. Coming to England, I was only leaving behind one good friend from college. At first, I felt embarrassed by this. How could I go through three years of college and come out with only one friend? College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, where you are supposed to make lifelong friendships. And here I was with no experiences that jumped out on a page and enough friends to count on one hand.
Back home, my “friends” would stab me in the back. Everyone around me was so indulged in everyone else’s business and had petty tendencies. In a way, I haven’t experienced a normal, pure, genuine friendship. I never had friends who were happy for my successes and who were supportive during my failures, not until I was here in England.
My friends here are kind.
They have smiles that could light up a room, and when they laugh, I can’t help but laugh along. When they make meals, they ask if I want some food as well. If I’m sick, they make me tea and soup. They get excited for me when I’m excited, and they care about my interests, even if it’s not something they like. They’re some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, and just one week with them was enough for me to know I wanted to stay at this school for as long as I could. As someone who steers clear of impulsivity, this was out of the ordinary for me. While I didn’t have friends at Penn State, I did have an internship opportunity waiting for me in the spring and the possibility of even more work experience.
After one week at Sussex, I Facetimed my mom.
“I want to stay here for the spring as well,” I told her. I was expecting her to tell me I was being careless, and that I should wait a couple more weeks and then decide. But instead, she smiled at me.
“You missed out on an actual college experience at Penn State. It’s your last year, and you clearly love it there, so if you can extend your stay, you should do it.” That was all I needed to hear. The next day, I met with the abroad advisor, and within a week, I became a full-year study abroad student.
As college students, we tend to stay with what’s comfortable— always coloring inside the lines and treading carefully. We think about our futures constantly: getting perfect grades, getting the perfect internship, getting the perfect job. We just put our lives on pause. We ignore our wants and desires and what makes us happy and turn into working machines, all for the goal of perfection. But sometimes you have to take that leap, take that chance. Do something different. Even if it’s not the typical route, you’ll always get to your destination in the end.
So, I’m staying in England for the entirety of my senior year of college, with little chance of finding an internship here or even a job when I get back.
Usually, that would stress me out. But instead, I feel at peace. I feel content. Because, for once, I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone and stepping away from the easiness of comfort. I’ve chosen to do what’s best for me right now instead of what’s best for my future. I’ve wasted 3 years of college living like an oil-machined robot, and I’ve decided it’s finally time for me to live. Because internships, jobs and work experiences come and go, but finding a good community where you feel at home may only happen a couple of times in a lifetime.