Growing up I knew I was going to college. It was said to me enough by my parents, my friends, society; after high school the next step was college. It was just a fact. The same can be said for studying abroad for a year. I pretty much always knew I was going to college and that my junior year would be devoted to studying abroad. I even went to the study abroad fair my freshman year of college to scout out potential programs. It was something I couldn’t wait to do.
When it came time to apply, I settled on a program in Brighton, England at the University of Sussex. It was a bit different, a little off the beaten path of other programs; just what a quirky girl like me wanted. At the end of my sophomore year at GW, I said good-bye to the campus and immediately started preparing for a new adventure.
This particular adventure was unlike any other I’ve been on, and I’m not sure any other one will come close. It was like going to college as a freshman again; I was so excited to look for new clubs and sports to join, to find new friends and explore the city for new favorite spots and hangout joints. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I adored my classes and I loved traveling all around Europe. I don’t think I will ever have the chance to be the jet-setter I was that year. I skipped whole weeks of classes to go to Rome and Istanbul and any other city I could reach. And every time I returned, Brighton welcomed me back with open arms.
But it was also very slow sometimes and very isolating. I spent very long stretches alone that year. There were weeks I didn’t really speak to anyone for more than an hour or two while at class; the rest of the time I would either be taking walks around campus or the city, or I would be watching TV in my room. Maybe it was my time to be the best introvert I could be; there were some days I didn’t speak to anyone at all.
This might sound crazy to some. I don’t think I would necessarily like to live my life that way now, but at the time, it was kind of necessary. That year, I really got to know myself and the kind of person I was/am. By spending so much time in my head I began asking myself certain questions about my behavior, why I thought this, why I did that. It was enlightening and frustrating. I realized that I had some pretty sexist beliefs on women’s issues and that I didn’t even begin to understand race relations within the US, let alone around the world. It was, frankly, an eye-opening experience and I learned so much more about myself and how I operate as a person.
And for all these reasons, Brighton is my favorite place. And not because it’s beautiful (it is) or that it was a home away from home (it was) but because of how I felt while I was there. I loved feeling like I was growing into a better person, that I was learning more and more about the world, not just though books but through actual human experiences. Because there were times I hated Brighton. The campus was actually in Falmer, a little town a bus ride away. The isolation got to me a lot. I felt lost at times. I cried a fair bit. But taking that time to be away, to be fully independent (at least mostly…) was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. It prepared me for making this move to New York. It continues to help me when I have to ask myself the big questions.
I hope when I go back to visit I will feel as proud of myself as I did when I left. Though I will never have another Brighton – there’s nothing like the first time – I hope someday I will find that connection to a place, or a state of mind, again.