Individuality most important lesson learned abroad

When I first came back from my semester abroad, everybody wanted to know what I learned. A whole new culture? A new recipe? Fun ways to assure you will not want to go to your morning class the next day? And the answer would be yes to all three.

But I also learned to be alone. “Alone” has a negative connotation: socially inept, awkward, lame, a loser. So for the sake of argument, I’ll call it individuality. And let me tell you, sometimes individuality is the best thing in the world.

As I said, there were many practices I acquired from my five months away. My first morning back home, I missed the mosque’s call to prayer at sunrise. I can make a killer lamb kebab and I could write a full report on the limited, but acceptable, beer selection of Istanbul. But I found time to go out by myself, without telling anyone where I was going, no direction in mind—except to get a kebab or a can of beer—and I went.

Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately, but I chose a bustling city instead. I was a foreigner roaming through hordes of local people. Paler and much taller, I know I stood out. At first, this made me anxious. I still got approached by salesman and business owners, pitching a product nobody wanted in broken English, trying to impress me. At first, I responded in English, but here, a thousand “no’s” and a brief dismissal must have come across as a “yes,” because I would continue to be hounded time after time. It was not until I responded to their English in my Turkish that they immediately stopped.

Of course, you have to take my word for it, because no one was there to see it happen—just the way I wanted it to be. When I sat on that park bench with that sandwich and beer, there were no expectations. For that one hour, society expected nothing of me and I expected nothing of it. My phone was not buzzing with concerned calls as to where I was and I did not alert all my friends or post a status that I went out to take a walk. It was liberating.

Back here in Oswego, the city is a bit smaller and the weather less permitting, but I still find that hour here or there. When you return, or re-emerge, or whatever you did, or wherever you went, the world will be the same and your friends will like you no less than before.

So don’t be alone, be an individual. None of your friends want to go somewhere you want to? Go anyway; you’ll be resentful at your friends, thinking they stopped you from going when really, it was only yourself. Get a table for one or a seat at the bar, or just take a walk. Ponder something you’ve never had the time, or audience (or lack thereof) for. You’ll find your destination along the way.

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