How You Can Embrace Loneliness While Studying Abroad

Published by Katie Lofblad.

Every few seconds they cackled at something that I struggled to hear from my position in the outer circle. The room was dim despite the floor to ceiling windows. Outside, the sky was a dull gray and a dusting of snow fell slowly, layering itself on top of the dusting of snow already on the ground. It seemed like everything would remain gray for the indefinite future.

My roommates and their friends sat in a tight circle in front of me. Their worn, cushioned armchairs forming a blockade between them and me. I poked my phone out over the top of the Spanish textbook that I couldn’t bring myself to read and snapped a picture of the backs of their heads. I knew my boyfriend studying his own textbooks at home in rural England, wouldn’t believe it, so I pressed send.

I returned to Syracuse for my junior fall after the best summer of my life. I spent my days driving boats at an overnight camp in Cape Cod, tanning, and singing along to the radio. I spent my nights falling deeper and deeper in love with a boy’s singsongy British accent and deep-brown eyes. He was a year older, a soccer (or football as he called it) fanatic, and studying to be an elementary school teacher – I adored him immediately. We spent July and August blowing our low wages on cheap motels in Hyannis so we could lie on the beach until our skin turned the color of coffee ice cream and eating overripe peaches from sunrise to sunset.

After that, Autumn presented itself as a new strain of loneliness. When I decided to live with my best friends I had imagined something different. A year earlier, when we signed the lease, we promised each other weekly “family dinners.” I would make the dessert, Morgan would cook the dinner, and Julia would clean up because she could barely make toast without burning it. We were going to ignore studying and watch old Mary-Kate and Ashley movies all night and recap the crazy nights out we spent together.

But it wasn’t working out.

I never wanted to have to prove myself in social situations. Everyone knows Morgan, whether they like her or not, they know who she is. Julia has that ability to find something in common with everyone she meets. They always wanted to have girls from our sorority over to pregame before fraternity parties. But when it becomes a competition of who’s voice is loudest, who’s story is craziest, who’s joke is funniest, I hang back. I disappear into my room to send texts to my boyfriend already asleep five hours ahead in a different time zone.

I am a wallflower.

Despite it’s negative connotation in today’s society, being a wallflower isn’t always a bad thing. There is a second definition. A lesser-known wallflower: “a garden plant grown for its bright, pleasant-smelling flowers.” These flowers grow in the spring. They are durable. They can withstand less-than-ideal conditions and still prosper despite poor soil, drought, and frost. They are one of the first flowers to bloom in spring, when others need their beautiful warm colors and fragrance most.

Over Thanksgiving break, I began to plan my escape. I would study abroad in England in spring. I bought the Fodor’s guide to London. I read it cover to cover, pressing sticky notes onto nearly every page, marking things I wanted to see and do and try. The morning after Christmas, I boarded my flight to London Heathrow and left Syracuse behind.

One afternoon, in late April, my classes let out early and I had the whole day ahead of me. I opened my Fodor’s London guide to my next sticky-noted page. The Royal Gardens, awaited. 15 stops away, a 35-minute tube ride. I hopped on the next train. When I got off the tube, I wandered around the picturesque village of Kew. Dainty homes with neatly fenced in gardens dotted the street. Well-dressed Londoners paraded their equally well-groomed dogs up and down the sidewalk (or pavement as I had grown to call it).

“Erysimum,” the sign read. Wallflower.

Soon, I found the garden’s large sloped entrance I forked over the 12-pound entrance fee and my eyes grew wide. The whole place was a fairytale landscape. It was uncrowded on a weekday so early in the season and I took my time wandering through forests and palm gardens and glass houses. I wandered through the treetop walkway once and then again 20 minutes later when I realized I needed 10 more pictures. In one garden, a wall of the brightest flowers I had seen since last summer stopped me. They smelled like fresh grass, warmer weather, and hope and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. “Erysimum,” the sign read. Wallflower. Stunned by their beauty, I found a nearby bench to indulge in their sight. I took out my Fodor’s guide to London and planned my next solo-adventure.

Featured Image via We Heart It.

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