An open letter to the student considering to study abroad:
This semester has caused me to do a lot of deep thinking about myself and my life. Being completely separated from my friends and family has given me alone time that I have never experienced before. And I can honestly say that many of those nights has caused me to wonder if I am truly happy. Most nights, I came to the conclusion that I was not. I mean, yes my life is amazing. Yes, I’m studying abroad in Italy. There are many things to be thankful for. However, being thankful and being happy are not the same thing. I am EXTREMELY grateful for this opportunity. I’m grateful that my friends and family are all healthy. But I do not feel happy. Today, I decided to write a blog post on how to define happiness and why you should study abroad. Those two topics might not seem related, but I believe that I cannot experience one without the other. Note: This post will be broken up into seemingly random blocks of text, but they are necessary to tie my final theory together. So please bear through my backstory if you wish to.
I want to begin by saying that I am a religious person, so my faith is a factor in determining my happiness. I realize that spirituality might not come in to play for everyone, but I cannot publish this post without mentioning God.
I have experienced two terms abroad now: Summer 2015 and Fall 2015. Of those terms, I am certain that I have enjoyed the Fall program more for some reasons. One glairing reason is the fact that I am studying engineering here. My courses are relating to what I am passionate about which has highly affected my attitude about it, weather that is a good or a bad thing. On one hand, it shows that I have chosen a major I am passionate about. On the other, it means I pouted a little bit in June.
On my return in June, my boyfriend told me that he planned a dinner for my birthday that he missed while I was abroad. He took me to Vast in OKC and it was a wonderful night. After dinner, we were shown the view of the tower and at the end, my best friend asked if I would be willing to spend the rest of my life with him. It was a beautiful proposal by the most perfect human in the world. In the end, I accepted and we have been engaged for six months now. *Applause*
After Chris and I became engaged, we looked for a church to call our own. We are both Apostolic Pentecostals (if you have questions about what I believe, I will answer those outside of this post) and found a perfect church in the Paseo district. At this point in my life, I have graduated high school, moved away from home, found my own church, am now engaged, and have spend a month abroad with plans to spend four more in the fall.
Leaving in August was hard. I had the best month and a half experiencing engagement and sharing life at a new level with Chris. But I’ve made it. I leave for home in 10 days and I return to my normal life. Of this year I have spent 5/12 months in Italy. 42% of my year has been away from my home, family, church, and Chris. Needless to say, this semester was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. On top of the normal hardships of being away from home, I received news in October that my uncle passed away. It was a devastating time for my family and I could not be there with them to grieve. Outside of my uncle passing away, more family emergencies occurred and by the time November hit, I honestly did not think that I could finish my semester here. With ISIS attacking Paris, there was a lot of fear about remaining in Europe, even though it might not have been justified. The terrorist attack along with everything that was happening in my family made it hard for me to want to stay. In the end, my mother, being the wise, supportive woman she is, encouraged me to stay and that the experience will only make me stronger.
After all of these disasters, Thanksgiving break arrived. Everyone traveled, and I was alone in Arezzo to think. I had a lot to reflect on and spend a few sleepless nights trying to sort through my emotions. I spend the majority of break talking to Chris and he helped me to realize what is important in my life. After finally sorting through everything, I believe I have found what I want from my life and how I could be the most happy.
The following is a list of things that aid to my total happiness:
- God – My faith defines my happiness to the highest level. I truly believe that through my faith, I can achieve happiness. “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD” Psalms 114:15. This might not be the case for most people, but for me, understanding who God is has helped me achieve my happiness.
- Family – My family is my support system. They never let me down and are always there no matter what. When my car isn’t working, I have a 24/7 mechanic with my dad. Whenever I need someone to talk to, I call either my mom or my sister. Whatever I need, I can contact my family and get help.
- Chris – In the same way that my family is important, my future husband also is. I have no clue what married life will be like, but I look at the examples that I am given. I believe that we will be there for each other to share life and make sure we don’t become overwhelmed with… anything. Chris will be my person that I go to with news, good or bad. Chris will be the person that shares every moment of my life with me, and that makes him important in my overall happiness.
- Home – Having a home is a large factor in happiness. As of this moment, I do not have my own, place. But when I return, Chris and I are going to look for apartments or a house to rent to find a place for ourselves after we get married in May. Having a place where I can call home makes me feel connected to my past. My mother has always taught me about my native heritage. While I am not a full blood or half blood, or any major percentage of Cherokee, learning about my past has been important. Knowing where I come from has caused me to need a home. While this might not be the case for some people. My best friend for example! She does not feel that where she is from determines her home. In her opinion, the world is her home and she should explore options. For me, where I come from is my home. While I might relocate at one point, for now, where I am is enough.
So, my own personal formula for happiness is God+Family+Chris+Home = Happiness.
In the end, that is my own formula. This might change for other people. For some, it might be Money+Family+Travel = Happiness. Or maybe God+Money+Travel = Happiness. And, a person is not limited to the amount of things that generate their happiness. For me, money is not a determining factor of how happy I will be. I have been asked why I chose engineering if money was not important. (I have noticed that there are some people choose engineering solely for the money aspect). For me, engineering is not about the money or job security (while they help). I chose to study engineering because the thought of solving problems that improve people’s lives sounds like an amazing job.
Also, just because success and money and travel are not in my formula for happiness does NOT mean that I would not enjoy those experiences. It just means that if I never lead an extravagant life, I will be fine. AND MY FORMULA MAY CHANGE. When I start my family, other things may become more important.
I do not want anyone reading this and concluding that I do not strive for success. I am working so my life will inspire others and will positively affect people around me.
Now, how does this relate to studying abroad?
We live in a crazy fast paced world. Everything you do in life is related to something else and can effect someone else. Cell phones have caused even more distractions and have made life slightly more crazy. Up until this point, I have not slowed down to think about what is important in my life. I just assumed that I would always know and that even without thinking, I would figure it out. However, everything in life takes work. And figuring things out about yourself and your life requires you to step away from the opinions of others (don’t ignore them, people have been through things you haven’t and most of the time they know what’s best).
In my case, studying abroad allowed me to collect what I have learned, apply it to my life, and figure out what I need to achieve success and happiness according to my own experiences. Among other things, I have made amazing friends, become more culturally aware, and have learned how to survive, thrive even, under distasteful situations.
I will be forever grateful for this experience and will look back, with confidence, that I made the right decision.
If you managed to make it through this entire post, thank you for listening to my opinions on happiness and my experiences studying abroad. I hope that everyone will find a way to study abroad at some point. In any case, this monologue is over and I leave you for now.