Studying abroad in college is unlike any other experience you’ll have in life. You get to travel to new cities on the weekends, there’s so much new food to try, and you learn the joys and irritations of trying to hold adult conversations with the language skills of a 5th grader. Studying abroad for 5 months taught me a lot about who I am as a person, both good and bad, and I can’t believe how quickly my time in Germany went by.

I have a fierce independent streak…

8 Things I Learned About Myself While Studying Abroad

Photo by Claire Waggoner

Some of my family members were shocked when I told then I’d traveled through Europe by myself.

“You couch surfed? With a stranger??”

Yes, I sure did, and I loved every minute of it. Traveling by myself made me realize that I am much more independent than I gave myself credit for. If no one felt like traveling for a weekend, that was fine, I could go by myself. I trust myself more because I know that I can make my own choices and see my decisions through, which makes the daunting task of life after college seem less scary.

…But can be a bit selfish at times.

When I did travel with others, I realized that woah, the world does not revolve around me. I got so used to doing whatever I wanted on my solo travels that I forgot that there were other people with me who had their own interests too. Knowing that I have my self-absorbed moments is powerful knowledge to have. It’s important to go your own way and embrace your inner adventurer, but going it alone isn’t always the best solution to life.

I can actually read a map when pressured.

I hate when my dad gives me directions. He always insists on drawing a map for me, even if I already have an actual map. And you know what? I suck at reading maps, or so I thought.

As it turns out, I’m pretty handy with a street map when it’s just me and a huge crowd of people speaking any number of jumbled European languages. I’m also a big fan of asking the locals for directions via doodles and hand gestures.

School isn’t my whole life.

8 Things I Learned About Myself While Studying Abroad

Photo by Claire Waggoner

After 21 years on this earth, I finally realized that GRADES ARE NOT MY LIFE. Those texts I have to read? I can do those later. The term paper I’d hoped to finish today? Well, my roommates wanted to have a BBQ. I finally found out how to juggle school work and my real life, and I’m a much happier woman for it. I’ve already had a few weekend trips since returning to my American university, and I have a few more up my sleeve as well.

My bladder is stronger than I give it credit for.

Everybody has that one friend who drinks like half a gallon of water every morning and then doesn’t pee until going to bed that night. I am not that friend. I’m the friend you make sure and remind to go to the bathroom before leaving a restaurant.

The bathroom hunt is real friends, but apparently my bladder is super cheap because as soon as I got to Europe, aka the land of expensive bathrooms (1 Euro or more per visit), I realized that I could hold it in until I found a freebie toilet. It’s the little things in life, isn’t it?

Sometimes it’s okay to feel stupid.

studying abroad

Photo by Claire Waggoner

Inarticulate hand gestures in exchange for directions, single-handedly butchering the German language one adjective ending at a time, crying through the entire performance of Miss Saigon in London’s West End. If there’s a way to be a foreigner abroad and perfectly fit in, then I definitely missed that memo. After a while, I just embraced being different. Not fitting in is perfectly okay, and German is just a hard language to learn. Besides, I think my German roommates enjoyed hearing my mistakes (we all could use a good laugh sometimes, right?).

I’m proud of my culture.

I was constantly peppered with questions about life in America, if I had ever seen a movie star, and whether I’d gone to certain cities. Many of the questions took me by surprise, but I gradually came to appreciate my culture the more time I was away from it. America is by no means a perfect country, but I felt very proud of my heritage and that I could share pieces of my life in the States with my friends abroad.

It’s healthy to want family time.

studying abroad

Photo by Claire Waggoner

That feeling you get when you realize that none of your friends understand you quite like your mom? That’s totally normal. Wishing your brother was around to make you laugh? Also fine.

I’ve never been one to get homesick, but I did have moments while studying abroad when I craved some quality family time. Spending the 4th of July away from my whole family was tough, but I didn’t let that spoil my day. Knowing that it was okay to miss home a little bit made everything seem more bearable, and it kept me motivated to travel as much as possible!

If you have a chance to study abroad, DO IT. Now is the time to do whatever you want, so don’t let it go to waste.

This post was originally published on Tall Girl Big World.