Life Abroad: Catchin’ L’s Left and Right

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning.”

Ivy Baker Priest


I strive for perfection. I overthink. I’m very analytical. And because of that, I’m very hard on myself. Whenever I make a mistake or I do something utterly embarrassing, I blame myself for my human nature. I hold myself accountable for every action, every thought, every experience that I’ve ever been through and it’s mental torture. But on the outside, I carry myself with grace that it’s not noticeable; or at least I don’t intend it to be. We strive to neglect humiliation and aim to reveal only our greatest triumphs. Instagram is a prime example: no one posts unhappy pictures. Our feeds are loaded with merely still photos of joyful memories, creating an ideal mosaic of our “faultless” lives. I do it too.

But there’s pure beauty in humiliation, embarrassment, adversity, failure, and of course, L’s (losses). Often times, we chose to ignore these “negative” emotions and experiences because it’s more convenient to show others that we are content. Why show people that I’ve been through a difficult moment in my life when I could just showcase myself at my peak all the time?

L’s are embarrassing, let’s face it. Although I’m here in Europe studying abroad and living my best life, I’ve taken a couple of L’s and it wasn’t cute. But for one, I can never blame myself for what life throws at me; I can only live and learn.

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Maastricht, Netherlands | Famous bookstore in an old church.

L #1: The Visa Process

For anyone thinking about studying abroad for a year, you must prove that you will have financial assistance for your visa. You either have to provide proof of your parents source of income or open up a bank account in your country of choice with a certain amount of money. When I first went to the Belgian Consulate in NYC, I got denied because my parents income wasn’t enough to support me while I was in Belgium. That was my first L and I wasn’t even in Belgium yet. I’m not one to get discouraged easily, but the visa process was stressful. When they told me that my parents income wasn’t up to visa standards, I was disheartened but not surprised. My parents’ income has always a roadblock growing up. I wasn’t able to do certain programs, travel, or afford some of the things that other students at school had. But I wasn’t going to let money stop me from my desire to study abroad. I already got accepted by KU Leuven and all I could think of is: Am I gonna go? It was the doubt that made me anxious and kept me up at night. I did anything to make it work; I visited Student Accounts as much as I could, spoke with my study abroad coordinator, and was reassured by my family and friends whenever I felt discouraged. Eventually my perseverance paid off; I received a letter from the school explaining that I’m receiving a scholarship which granted me to receive my visa. Since my parents income tax return wasn’t enough, I had to opt for a KU Leuven blocked bank account.

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Lisbon, Portugal | Views from the ‘bon.

L #2: Being Broke in Europe

This L was frustrating (still is). When I first arrived in Belgium, I knew no one except for my coordinator and I didn’t even meet her yet. For the first few days, I was lost. I only had US dollars and no access to a Western Union in Leuven. Basically I was broke for the first week and being broke in Europe ain’t cute. You can’t go anywhere, you can’t buy food and any necessary items that you may need. Luckily, my roommate at the time offered to help me out, but I was embarrassed by my situation. After the first week of attempting to figure out the typical Belgian work schedule, I was finally able to have access to the money in my blocked bank account. After a tough week, I finally caught a W (win).

Sike.

Manhattanville decides to not send my refund check. Why? Because apparently, I need my parent’s permission in order for them to send me my refund via bank account. Keep in mind, I already filled out the Refund Request Form and before I left, I made sure that everything was set so that I could avoid carrying out unnecessary tasks while abroad ‘cause a sis tryna live her life. Long story short, I didn’t receive my refund check until mid-November and I had to pay for my housing on my own. Go figure.

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L #3: Adapting to a new “life”

When you move to a different country, it’s magical. Everything feels surreal; more like fact intertwined with a hint of fantasy. Sometimes I would find myself frequently gazing at the ancient buildings and analyzing the city life supervene with admiration. Unfortunately, the transience feeling of adoration for the city eventually wore off and living in Europe became ordinary. Culture shock is real and for those who are curious about living in a different country, be open to adaptation. For instance, the jokes/memes that I was so used to bond over with my friends wasn’t the necessarily the case when I arrived in Belgium. There are some things that can’t be easily expressed, regardless of translation or not. Shops in America usually stay open until about 10 or will stay open 24/7, but that’s not the case in Europe. In Belgium, shops close at 6pm Monday through Friday and on Sundays everything is closed. Running errands earlier that expected was a must or else I would be starving until the next morning. There have a couple times where I missed the 6pm mark due to class and would have to starve until the following morning. Not cute.

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Leuven, Belgium | The city where I study. I still love it but I’m so used it now.

L #4: Lack of WiFi

Be grateful about endlessly using your 6GB data whenever, wherever, and however you want. The moment I left the States, it was a wrap. It was like WiFi hunger games; everywhere I went, I needed wifi and if I couldn’t get it, I made sure the next coffee shop I went to had wifi. But the eternal lack of wifi had it’s perks as well. It forced me to discipline myself when it came to my phone. I used to snap everything, tweet how I felt, and scroll endlessly on Instagram. Now that Wifi is scarce and my international data plan is costly, I avoid running up the phone bill and distancing myself from others by leaving my phone in my bag and engaging in my environment. The only con to this L is not having wifi or data when absolutely necessary, such as using Google maps when your lost. There were times that I was forced to screenshot Google maps directions because I knew I was going to lose wifi the minute I stepped out my dorm or a coffee shop. Although getting lost is my new favorite thing to do whenever I visit a city, it could be a bit frustrating when you’re in a rush.

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Leuven, Belgium | Enjoying life with friends, as usual.

L#5: Managing School Work

When I was considering study abroad, a friend of mine described it as “an extended vacation” which is absolutely true. Whenever I think about my past life in the US, I can describe it as stressful, weary, and cautious. I would never consider going out on a Monday night when I have class the next day at 9am. I would never skip class for a 3-day trip. I would never go grab a mid-day drink with friends after class. Because Europe’s lifestyle is very nonchalant, it was challenging to manage my school work. Last semester, I had classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and you know what I did Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday? Partied, traveled, and slept. But towards the end of the semester, I was a bit regretful about my lazy demeanor throughout the semester. Don’t wait until last minute to start studying for exams.

L#6: Dating

I’ll keep this brief. If you’re looking for something, don’t bother. Focus on your being and improving yourself. You’ll soon realize that no one is looking for anything and if they are, it’s most likely not from a genuine place. Just focus on having fun and be open to learn more about yourself and life.

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Brussels, Belgium | This day was iconic – my friend and I ended up having a photoshoot after some failed plans.

L#7: Spontaneous Inconveniences

Ya’ll. This L was horrid.

When my phone got stolen in the metro in Barcelona, I was ready to rip my eyebrows off and I barely have eyebrows lmao. Or the time I got very sick and ended up spending a lot of money on the doctor and medicine. I was livid, like

I ended up spending more than I anticipated, especially when my phone got stolen. I had just arrived in Barcelona and was on my way to the hostel until suddenly some random person decided to inconvenience my life by swiping me of my possessions. Luckily, I had my iPad with me so I could still take pictures and keep in touch with people as opposed to just being phoneless but I still felt defeated. It happened at such a critical moment where I actually needed my phone to navigate around Barcelona. Although it was refreshing to be fully present in the moment and not have to constantly check my phone, it was still a bummer. Since I didn’t have insurance with my phone company, I had to resort to buying a cheap android. Talk about a major downgrade, ugh.

L#8: Missing My Flight

Yes, I did. I missed my flight to Montenegro. Since I like to travel by myself, I thought a nice holiday to southeastern Europe would be a perfect way to unwind during the beginning of the semester. Unfortunately, I overslept because I thought I could handle my liquor like the rest of these Europeans. My flight was at 10:40am and I woke up at 9:47am.

Yikes.

I was like, “I’m just not gon’ go.” My four day solo holiday was canceled and you know what I did once I woke up? Canceled my reservation with the hostel and went back to sleep. That week was already rough and I already accepted my L, haha. Since Ryanair is a cheap airline, I couldn’t get my money back for the flight, leaving my bank account dry af. A tip: Don’t drink the night before your flight – you’ll regret it in the morning.

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Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain | Felt uh-mazing to finally soak up some vitamin D

L’s are a guaranteed gateway to inner-discontentment. But we all must understand that L’s happen randomly and we must embrace them in order to move forward. Living in a country that is completely dissimilar to what you’re used to can and will be overwhelming. But think about how brave you are for taking that risk of stepping out of your comfort zone. Although these L’s in some way shape or form affected me throughout my experience abroad, it broadened my insight on life. It taught me to keep moving and as long as I’m breathing, have my friends and family, and with God, nothing can limit me.

 

Keep moving forward,

~R

 

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