Before I left for Europe, I can’t even count how many times people told me: “Enjoy it, it’ll change your life.” or “You’ll come back a different person.” or “You only get a chance like that once.”
I mean, fair point. Studying abroad is a pretty unique experience, one I’m not likely to forget. And I’m sure I will experience lots of things that will help me in my personal development and show me things about the world I never knew before.
But dang, is it a lot of pressure to go into something thinking, “I have to make the most of every moment because it’s going to change my life and if I waste one second I will regret it forever!!!”
I’ve found myself thinking that a lot. If I’m just walking around the city myself, or sleeping in one morning, or going for a run around the lake, I sometimes think, “What am I doing here? I need to be doing things that will make this the life-changing event that everyone’s telling me it will be!”
That’s such a trap. If I spent my whole time here thinking like that, I’d be too busy worrying about having life-changing experiences to actually experience anything life-changing.
So yes, I have been spending a lot of time alone, and walking around the city buying food from street vendors and window-shopping and going to museums on a whim because student fare is ridiculously cheap. But is that bad? I rarely have the chance to do any of those things in “real life.” I’m a woman without a mission in a big city. My friend Ashley told me that I’m like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I mean, I’ll take it.
What I’m really doing is living in the moment. No, right now I don’t yet have a close group of confidants with whom to discuss deep thoughts (in German, of course), and right now I’m not in classes, and right now I’m not traveling around Europe like crazy. But I am living in the moment. All those other things will have their moments, but this one ain’t it.
For now, every day I do something different, learn something new about the world, and discover something about myself. And if I have a chance to do something, like go to a jazz guitar concert even though I don’t know the first thing about jazz guitar, you better believe that I take it! Living in the moment can take lots of forms.
I’m sure, months and years from now, I will look back on this time and see that it did change my life. Maybe I will regret some things, but hopefully it will be filled mostly with fond memories of good experiences and self-discovery. “Becoming a new person” happens gradually, because of a life lived in the present.
So I beg of you: the next time you talk to someone who is about to do something like study abroad, or go to college for the first time, or, I don’t know, get married or something, please, please, don’t tell them that it will “change their life.” Tell them to have fun and that you are excited for them and leave at that. The life-changing part will happen on its own. You don’t need to point it out.