Change used to terrify me. As a child, I was sentimental to the point of it being ridiculous, feeling hurt over every little thing out of my control, letting the pain of missing someone consume my ten, eleven, twelve year old body. Thankfully over time I got fed up with feeling that way and looked for ways to stop feeling so attached to everyone and everything. After many years, I slowly learned to embrace and at times even yearn for change, because the girl who feared it has been replaced with one who recognizes that nothing in you will change if nothing in your life does. This mindset brings not fear but excitement – along with the lucid bird that is hope – when embarking on an adventure like studying abroad, which has changed me thus far in so many ways it makes my head spin to think of it.
I feel as though I have found the pleasure in enjoying eating food that isn’t the healthiest, something I had lost for so long and only now regained as I sample sweets and local food galore, the enjoyment a welcome reprieve from guilt and self shame that women especially are conditioned to employ. I have learned time and time again that there are so many intelligent, kind people in this world as I talked to peers in my class and on our pre-planned excursions (my study abroad organization offers a few). Through this, I have let go of a lot of social anxiety, doubt, and fatigue I associated with socializing. I’ve gained an appreciation for different cultures in a way I’ve never felt my heart open up to before. Broken English sounds like music and I marvel at the way letters dance when spoken in their non-English native tongues. I let others chuckle at my bad French knowing I, too, have admittedly not always been as kind as I should have been when hearing badly spoken English. I no longer fear speaking in a new language, the way I have with Spanish for years now, solely because my accent is not correct – who cares if it isn’t! It won’t get better by staying silent.
I’ve learned what packing light really means. I know more about grocery shopping and cooking now than I ever did and living alone has taught me so much about self-care. A lot of my worries about being a Muslim in Europe, and particularly France, have proven to be for naught as Muslims, hijab-clad women, and halal food surround me. It makes me so happy when I catch myself not holding back from outings just because they’re maybe not the most convenient or comfortable for me. Something in me had shut down to going outside of my comfort zone that has been reawakened from being motivated to do so in my new surroundings, because I did not come all this way to not see all that Paris has to offer! Each time I go out or socialize and see that I am okay, I feel stronger. See? I say to myself. It’s not so scary, after all. The most important thing I’ve learned is that even if it makes me nervous, sharing my unfiltered, deep-down true self is freeing in a magical way. I have never so unabashedly been myself and been accepted for it. There’s something about travel that reminds me of what really matters in life. I feel more confident to travel to other countries in the future than I ever have before. I am proud of all that I am capable of doing, this girl from a small town in Illinois. But then again, traveling to a foreign country all by yourself, watching the Eiffel tower sparkle at midnight, and navigating the metro system like a local would make anyone feel invincible. Youth feels like it lasts forever and I sure hope my sense of adventure dies only when I do!