Guess what day it is, VALENTINE’S DAY! (Well at least in my time zone). I’ve always been a fan of this commercialized holiday. Not because I’ve always had a boy to buy me flowers and chocolate but because I love, love. I think it is fitting that I spend today, writing a blog post on being alone, seeing that I’m 9,000 miles away from everyone I know and Valentine’s day isn’t usually associated with singleness. I’m not talking relationship status. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doing this because I am anti-Valentine’s Day, but because in the short 14 days I have been in this city, I have learned to be more comfortable with the idea of being alone.
There are many differences between suburban small town Connecticut and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, but the big one is that this is my first time ever living in a city. I decided to put myself on a plane for over 22 hours and land in a country on the other side of the world where I knew no one. I knew there were other students who I was going to meet up with, but I didn’t know anything besides their uploaded Facebook profile picture.
While I am never actually alone in this busy city of Saigon, I am alone in an emotional way, being far away from everything that makes me comfortable: my family, my friends, and my school, but this morning, as I walk down the sidewalks looking for a new coffee shop to sit in, I was very comfortable with the idea of being all by myself. I walked down the street with great confidence. I’m okay with finding a place to eat without friends. I’m fine with spending some time in my homestay bedroom just reading and reflecting. I’m content with adventuring without a buddy.
The homestay component of my study abroad experience is something that caused me much anxiety but is turning out to be one of the greatest experiences yet. I am living in District One of Ho Chi Minh City with my má (mother), my anh (older brother), and my em trai (younger brother). They are some of the kindest, warm hearted people I have ever met. I am dropped off every day at school, I am fed SO much food, and a fresh smoothie is waiting for me every day after my afternoon class. Their compassion does not go unnoticed. Living in a homestay is a unique study abroad experience because you are not living with another American student. You don’t have the comfort of having an english speaking friend around you at all times. Even though my homestay family’s English is pretty great, language barriers are also a common theme. Being in a homestay has allowed me to have my time alone, but also have my time fully engaged in the culture. I am grateful for both the time spent with my family and the time spent with myself.
I am 99 percent extraverted and 1 percent introverted, constantly surrounding myself with loud people at school, doing things with friends and crowds always. It has been refreshing to be able to motorbike across the city just to find a new hiding place. Last night after dinner of fried eggs and caterpillars, I told my homestay brothers that I would be back in half an hour. I wanted to walk around the district they live in and get a feel for the new view of the city that I am fortunate to get. My older brother was hesitant and asked if I wanted him to accompany me, but I knew that this alone time is an important time for me to process all the new experiences I am encountering.
There’s something empowering about walking down a crowded street and knowing no one. It gives you the ability to be whoever you want to be in a new place. I have found that in the process of being alone, I have learned more about myself. Many times, we do not give ourselves credit for our own abilities. It’s a lack of confidence in our strengths and too much focus on our weaknesses. When you spend time with your own mind, you are able to recognize all that you can fully do.
At the end of my freshman year, I was adamant about not studying abroad. I did not want to miss the people at my school that I cared about, but now I am so thankful that I forced myself to focus on me, getting out of my comfort zone, and recognizing all that I can do on my own. I am still always going to be extraverted, enjoying the company of others but I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know myself more as I begin my twenties!