I want to thank “Anonymous” for sharing their story. The My Story Series is a place where real women can tell real stories, a platform of openness, support and awareness.
Study Abroad. The time of your life. You’ll never have more fun. Your friends abroad will be you best friends for life. Enjoy it because you’ll be so sad to come home. It’ll fly by.
I came abroad three months and one week ago with everything I’d heard from friends and strangers about this city fresh on my mind, ready for the experience of a lifetime. I vividly remember sitting in the cab from the airport to my homestay, and smiling as I passed Gothic architecture that doesn’t exist in the United States, smiling as I passed by masses of people walking around knowing they were speaking a different language. I was ready, this was it. This was going to be the best three and a half months of my life, and I was in the most incredible city to experience that in.
The first few weeks passed by, and I was worried that I was spending too much time with familiar people, a familiar language, and a familiar social scene that I’d already experienced time and time again at home. I ended up booking a trip with some people from my school who I didn’t really know and had just seen as “People You May Know” on Facebook. This trip, while incredible, took a lot out of me. I felt out of place, and tensions grew as the logistics of the steep cliffs of the Amalfi Coast got to me.
Then, as I was sitting on the steps of the Amalfi Cathedral, finally enjoying the sweet, sweet sight of three full bars on the upper left corner of the screen of my phone, things changed. I saw the subject “Hi” from my mom, and opened this email:
Can’t seem to get through to you on your phone. Are you in Italy? Is everything okay? We’ve been trying to get in touch with you to tell you Dad has a mass in his lung and is having surgery on Tuesday to remove it. We don’t want you to worry and will keep you updated, just wanted you to know. We don’t know what it is but will find out next week.
Hope things are going well. Love you and miss you!
The unspeakable. I froze, nothing around me moved as I processed what this meant. I immediately began to rethink everything and plan out the next two years of my life, and how I could still graduate in four years if I had to miss out on a semester. I didn’t give a f*** about any of the people I didn’t know around me, or the beautiful cliffs above me. About 5 days later, after I had returned to my study abroad home base, we found out that the worst case scenario was the truth: lung cancer, stage 2A.
Now this isn’t a call for pity about how my privileged study abroad experience got ruined. Quite the contrary. While I began planning how to get home at a moment’s notice, I also began taking in every day and realizing that life happens. Seriously. Life happens, and you can’t do anything to stop it. Bad timing for me, but is it really ever a good time for tragedy to strike? I was on life’s high in Europe and this threw a wrench in that, but what if I had been on life’s low, jobless, homeless, alone? I was surrounding by interesting things and more interesting people I had yet to meet, and even though it felt like things were falling apart and the future looked bleak, you can’t even take the good things for granted. Life is never as dismal as it seems, and if you wake up tomorrow, then carpe diem that day my friend.
As study abroad continued, and I saw my friends from my home school in beautiful cities, tensions ran higher and higher, until the silence broke on one weekend trip. Drunk off of cheap vodka and irritation, a huge fight erupted about how I was closed off and irritable, and I was angry that I wasn’t getting the space and solitary study abroad experience that I so needed at this point in my life. I mean, how dare someone tell you how to react and who to talk to when your dad gets cancer? In retrospect, I could have been more understanding that I was acting stand-offish and closed off, but it’s difficult to see it in the moment, especially when you’re grieving.
Tensions since then haven’t exactly subsided, but that might be my fault. I haven’t really gotten the space from the world that I needed even before my dad got sick. If I really had wanted to get away, I shouldn’t have come to the most popular American study abroad destination in the entire world. I should have gone to Auckland, New Zealand, a good 7,083 miles from home. But it’s easy to say 20/20 hindsight, the answer isn’t to say “oh, I should have done this or that instead.” The answer is to find the good in every situation, even if that good is just something to avoid in the future. The answer is to learn from your mistakes and bad reactions, and to take that with you but leave behind the feeling of resentment and hurt. Know when to fight, and know when to let it go.
This has kind of gone on a tangent but I have a point I swear. Life throws its absolute worst at you (See: The Entire Year 2016). But if you have low expectations and demands, and high hopes and dreams, it’s not hard to shake it off.
Hi Future Study Abroad Students/Everyday Patrons of Life,
Can’t seem to get through to you on your phone. Are you in Italy? Is everything okay? I know that you have high expectations about the “best semester of your life,” and that you’ve heard life will throw curveballs at you, but seriously, chill. Enjoy this great privilege, but make sure you take care of yourself and don’t put yourself through things to please other people. Take time alone, it’s healthy. Go out with people who annoy you. Make friends, lose friends. Just see what happens and love every second of it, even the bad bits.
Life brings you down. Don’t let it keep you down.
Hope things are going well. Love you and miss you!