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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A mini “interview” written Spring 2017

Stephanie Ford

German Literature Major, Junior

This was required by university housing as a way for the RA (resident adviser) to check-in with the students. It was also meant to be beneficial for Freshman students to reflect on how university has impacted their lives. Yes, I wrote this as a Junior. If you keep reading, you will discover why I was living in Freshman housing.

What were some of the highlights of this year? Why?
I had an article published on an online magazine
I worked in Little Five for seven months at Rag-O-Rama
I applied for an internship and scholarship that both required recommendation letters, essays and a lot of work (didn’t get internship; still waiting on scholarship)
I got to explore different types of German classes (found out I didn’t like translating but I like German poetry)
I’ve maintained regular lessons at Goethe-Zentrum and practiced my German consistently
I took a course “Women Lead in Business” and gained a lot of practical knowledge
I teach English weekly to non-native adults and truly enjoy teaching
I led a Book Drive for Golden Key Honor Society and gave a speech during the New Member Recognition Ceremony (in front of President Becker)
I’ve read 15 books since the fall semester began (not to mention all the articles and excerpts I read for my classes; and more than half of the books were in German)

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What were some of your personal successes? Why?
One of my personal successes was that I got a little tougher this year. Before I wanted to maintain friendships and relationships with people who brought me down. But this year, I have protected myself and have decided not to let people play with my emotions.
Another personal success is that I’ve managed my negative emotions well. I have used music or writing to express what was making me feel bad. I didn’t go to some of the negative coping options I used before.

What were some of your struggles this year? why?
Time management has not been a problem for me. It has been not having enough time to do everything (work, school, sleep, work out, shop, hang with friends, etc., etc.) Many college students do have to work, or have other responsibilities. This year has been the busiest for me. I have been exhausted so many times, and relied on coffee to keep me going. I have had to lack in certain areas like giving myself free time to go out, or hitting the gym. Although being busy is good for me. It keeps me in line and feeling good, I have been pushing myself and have neglected (although not to a ridiculous degree) my body and well-being.
The other major struggle I had this year was with my roommate before I changed dorms. We had to share a bedroom (and of course a bathroom). It did not matter how many compromises or roommate agreements we made, she always did what she wanted to do (including keeping me awake many nights and talking to me like she’s my overcorrecting aunt.) I tried to live in peace and keep to myself, but she truly began harassing me and I felt like I could not even breathe in my own room. So, my other main struggle was being practically tortured by a person who didn’t want to make things easy for anyone. On top of that, getting in touch with the right people at Georgia State, and them actually doing what they are supposed to do to change things for me has been a major struggle out of my control.

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What are things you can do in the future or things you’ve already started doing to help in the areas you struggle?
When I finally got to a point that I was so used to being busy all the time, but losing my drive a bit and relying too much on coffee and energy drinks, I decided to put in my two weeks at work. Now that I’ve stopped working, I am feeling much better and I am putting time into the things I neglected before.

Do you think anything has changed about you since coming to college?
Sure, a lot has changed about me since coming to college. My fashion sense has developed into a new direction. I am pickier about my friends. I have been to a few different foreign countries and have experienced different cultures. I also speak another language and am learning my third. In high school, I was more of an outcast and rebel. Although, I am not trying to please everyone now, I put a lot of consideration into my actions as I want to help others and make an impact on my community. I am still shy, caring, and a little nerdy, but I have challenged myself in many ways and done things that I would not have done in high school. I have matured in many aspects and have really learned a lot. I am more focused and have passions and interests that I didn’t have before.

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How have your relationships at home changed since you’ve come to GSU?
My parents see me as a young adult and have a lot to be proud of and share with their friends. Having more distance with my parents has also allowed us to understand each other better. My family is still important to me and I will never forget that my parents worked hard to provide for me and gave me a lot of support, but now I have become more independent and cannot rely on my parents to fix everything when something goes wrong. I think my parents have learned from me and hearing about my experiences; I can also appreciate hearing some of their old stories and points of advice.

What was it like at home over break?
Normal, boring, relaxing… Things do not change that often back home. Of course it is weird at first but I have adjusted to it and see that as where I’m from and where my family is. Everything was fine with my family and I kept myself busy, but didn’t overdo it and gave myself time to rest. I was still working in Atlanta during break.

How have your views on social or cultural issues changed since coming to GSU? Have they changed at all?
Apart from travelling abroad, I will say that Georgia State has exposed me to many different types of people. Because of that, I am used to working with people who are different than me. I do not let stereotypes or outside appearances guide my decisions.  However, I have also seen that people are very divided and are quick to blame others. I think that there is potential for all people to be treated equally, but there is a lot of pain and hate that hold people back. In a way, I have been inspired because being with all kinds of people is the norm for me, but, on the other hand, I have been discouraged because although Georgia State and Atlanta may be diverse, people are not so open-minded and misjudge others when they are different.

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Is there anything you’d like to challenge yourself or other students about regarding perceptions of other cultures or your own culture?
I think that everyone should either travel abroad or study a foreign language. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone allows us to see our flaws and our strengths. It also helps us realize that no one is always the insider and no one is always the outsider. There will always be similarities and differences between people. Exposure to new things and opening yourself up to different people is a great way to challenge one’s perception of their culture and other cultures.

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Have there been any programs or events on campus that have exposed you to different ideas about culture and society? What were they?
I went to a World Youth Alliance meeting and discussed stereotypes about homeless. I heard a lot of interesting stories from volunteers with experience around working with homeless people. I also learned some surprising statistics about how extreme poverty and homelessness are in Atlanta and the state of Georgia.

I enjoyed putting this post together. I did not make any changes to what was originally written in Spring of 2017. Now you know a little bit more about me.

All the best,

Stephanie