Yesterday was the one year anniversary of accepting my offer from University College Dublin.
Three-hundred-sixty-six days have passed since I decided to move abroad.
Which means that today marks exactly one year since I stood in the shower at 5:40 am and wondered what on Earth I had signed on to do and how I was EVER going to be brave enough to move alone to a country I’d never visited before and make a new life there. I didn't know how I would make friends as a foreigner, navigate a new education system, find the grocery store, learn to cook for myself, or live an ocean away from everyone I know and love. I felt completely sick to my stomach with dread, utterly terrified and bewildered. I felt it all.
And then I got out of the shower, and that specific, wildly uncomfortable feeling hasn’t returned since.
I told myself that I would never tell another soul about that moment, thinking that it was a moment of weakness. I look back on it now as one of the greatest moments of strength I’ve ever had. I looked straight into the heart of something that terrified me, and I didn’t lie to myself or run away from the emotions that accompanied such a big step, but rather walked through it and made the right decision for me anyway.
That moment was also a concentrated encounter with a not-often-discussed but monumental challenge of making a decision like moving abroad for college. I left the known path. My whole life, I have been presented with a conventional path after high school: go to an American college, make a core group of friends in freshman year that you stick with for four years, have an awesome/awful roommate, cheer at football games, eat in a dining hall, stay up studying with friends all night in the library, get into some good trouble, then graduate, reunite with your college buddies once a year, and carry on your way.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this path, and it is a beautiful fit for so many people after high school. When I decided to move abroad, I abandoned the comfort of many of those certainties I had relied on and expected. My path won’t and hasn’t looked like that. I have to keep making up what my next step will be socially, academically, in a thousand unquantifiable ways, with no guarantees. In Johnathan Larson’s wise words, ‘Why should we blaze a trail/when the well-worn path seems safe and so inviting?’ I struggle with that uncertainty, fear, and challenge every day, including today, but it’s also one of those uncomfortable, wonderful things that makes this adventure so worth taking. I may not know my next step, but each step is mine and I get to make it my own.
At any rate, today, at 17:00 Irish Time, I finished my freshman year by submitting my last final paper. I was with beloved friends in the building that I toured virtually a year ago, eating chocolate from our Easter Egg hunt, listening to the playlist I had compiled to listen to on the first flight I took alone to Ireland, filled with songs about brave people making daring journeys. It has been a year like no other, filled with joy, adventure, love, fear, challenge, connection, discovery, hard work, and exploration.
If I could go back to that moment in the shower at 5:40 am, when it was just me and my fear, I wouldn’t tell myself to not be afraid or chill out–frankly, I probably should have been about 100x more scared if I had fully understood what I was going to do, but the only way to fully understand it was to go through it. I would show my past self this picture and tell her that she would live more in this one year than she thought it was possible to live in an entire life.