What I’ve Learned Living Abroad on My Own

“When it seems like no one cares what you’re doing with your life, you have to be there for yourself…”
And much more! Here are ten things I’ve learned during my time living alone in Germany.

1. “Adulting” takes a lot of time and energy: Adulting means calling the doctor when something is bothering you. Adulting means getting yourself help when you need it. Adulting means planning meals and going grocery shopping. Adulting means cooking or spending your own money when you eat out. Adulting means deciding between work and play. Adulting means cleaning and doing chores. Adulting means getting yourself the things you need to be successful. Adulting means taking responsibility for your decisions. All of which takes a lot of time and energy. But eventually–or at least I have–you develop a routine. You learn from your mistakes and decide if you want to do it better the next time. Independence can be freeing but it comes with responsibility.

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2. Friendships aren’t easily made: I have heard so many times that it’s hard to make friends in Germany. That’s true–it takes time to “crack their hard shells.” But actually, it’s hard to make friends in Germany and in America. I think making true friends is hard everywhere. Students are so busy and we get comfortable with the friends we already have. Meeting new people and having acquaintances aren’t the same as having close friends. Friends are people who you don’t just have small talk with. They are people who want to spend time with you, who you can be yourself around, who want to see you succeed, and they are people who are there to listen and give support even when times are hard.

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3. Introverts aren’t always happy being alone: I was almost always busy during the semester back home–classes, work, volunteer work, extra classes, studying, hitting the gym, and so on. I still went out and spent time with friends, but I didn’t have as much time to think about actually being alone during most of my free time since I didn’t really have “free time.” When I had a lot of free time on my hands my first semester here, my hobbies alone didn’t keep me happy because I felt stuck in my own world and therefore, lonely. If you’re introverted, push yourself to go to events and talk to new people. You may not feel energized in large crowds but you still need love and support.

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4. When it seems like no one cares what you’re doing with your life, you have to be there for yourself: Not everyone is going to like you, but you have the right to pursue your interests. There is definitely someone in your life who cares so don’t give up–for them and for yourself.

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5. Talking helps: Even when things sting when you first talk about them, I think that we feel less weight in our hearts after we’ve talked about a hard time or bad experience. Communication is also key to all healthy relationships. Try not to criticize the other person, but rather explain how you felt in the situation.

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6. Writing is cathartic and gives you insight into the past: I have been keeping a diary since I started my study abroad here (and on and off since I started university.) For one, it makes me feel better when I turn my emotions and thoughts into concrete words on paper. It is also very interesting to read what I did months and even years ago. Not to mention, our thoughts are consistently changing.. you may be surprised months later by what you were thinking before.

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7. Our emotions dictate our perception and they act as warning lights: Except for practicing mindfulness and seeing the good in ourselves, I think it is quite hard to “control” our emotions. I still haven’t decided whether it’s the thought or the emotion that comes first. Our emotions do make all the difference when it comes down to what we perceive. But, our emotions are like warning lights. So don’t put yourself second to a person who doesn’t connect with you. Our feelings shouldn’t be ignored and, even when it seems hard at first to admit, they can be a hint that something isn’t right. But we also shouldn’t let them stop us from being who we are and doing what we love. In other words, don’t get yourself down and when you feel like someone has brought you down, there is most likely something there that needs to be addressed.

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8. Perspective is key: When things get hard or you are feeling down, it’s helpful to remind yourself that there is more good than bad. We can’t just eliminate all bad and every negative experience. But we can remind ourselves that a positive perspective allows us to use the now and what we currently have to its fullest and try to make a better tomorrow. A positive perspective is a strong fighter against negativity and irrational thoughts.

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9. Being happy and successful for me means to never stop planning the big things but having enough time and spirit to enjoy the little things: Being content and leading a fulfilling life does not come from only working on the big, future plans. Goal after goal after goal. The things around you become more special when you take the time to acknowledge them and appreciate them. Sometimes a break is all you need. Then you can start again later in full-force.

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10. It usually isn’t as bad as you think: Everyone else doesn’t care as much about the mistake you made as you think. It will be forgotten soon. We’re all human after all. Also, we have the tendency to have black and white thinking when our feelings are involved. Just because we are feeling bad, it doesn’t necessarily mean somebody did something wrong and it also doesn’t mean they intended to hurt you.

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