Studying Abroad: Overcoming Social Anxiety and Embracing New Experiences
When I first got my college acceptance letter to my dream school, it had an unexpected twist that would change my life forever. On my application, I opted for the school's global launch program, which could send students around the world. The letter explained that if I wanted to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I would have to spend the first semester of my freshman year across the Atlantic Ocean in Scotland.
At first, I was very nervous and unsure. I had lived in Virginia my whole life and had limited experience traveling to other countries. But person after person told me that studying abroad is life-changing because it allows you to see the world from a new perspective. That ability is important because it can assist you in solving problems and using empathy to help other people. So, I sat down with my family and decided that I would accept this offer.
After waiting until the very last minute to pack (and somehow forgetting my toothbrush along the way), I was ready to catch my flight to Scotland! I flew over without any problems and met the group of people that I would be living with for the next four months. However, my social anxiety made this pretty hard. In high school, I was very introverted and never was good at making friends. These memories led me to be quiet and shy at first. My friends now say I didn’t make a memorable first impression. And since we all had our own rooms in Scotland, I spent the majority of my time the first couple of weeks alone doing schoolwork or watching TV. Two weeks into my trip, I felt homesick and lonely, so I decided something needed to change.
My efforts started small, by eating meals with my roommates in our shared living area. I got to know them a little better and realized they were accepting and fun to hang out with. We went to study sessions, restaurants, and even clubs! I began to come out of my shell and even went out of my way to meet more people in my classes. This was something I never would have imagined doing just a year ago. And because I formed a close-knit group of friends in Scotland, I felt like I had belonged there and was able to fully experience the amazing opportunity that I had been given.
Together with my new friends, we traveled to France, Italy, and England. We ate croissants on the streets of Paris and witnessed Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in person. Back in Scotland, we went bowling and made sure that every karaoke place in town knew our names. I lived life to the fullest because I took that small step towards eating with new people in an effort to make friends.
Before I knew it, it was time to catch my flight back home. I tearfully hugged my new friends, waved goodbye to the campus that had become my home, and boarded the flight back home.
Even though I left Scotland, the experiences and lessons that I learned will never leave me. Now whenever I feel nervous in a social situation, I remember how much I overcame in an entirely different country and realized that I can do anything as long as I’m willing to put myself out there.