Being a 20-something is hard. It’s a time in your life when you’re just starting to get the whole “adult” thing figured out, but you don’t really feel quite grown-up enough to be an adult. It’s an adjustment period where you move from student to worker (or, as in my case, from academic student to trade student). You start learning how to budget, how to be a homeowner, and how to be responsible.
Right after I finished college, I decided to move to Italy and go to culinary school. Sounds like a dream right? Spending two years eating and drinking in Italy. And for the most part it is just as picturesque as it sounds: 5-course dinners, making pasta, eating fine wines, touring the country. This is why I’m here, and it’s even better than I expected.
Then there are the basic Adult-101 things I have had to learn in a foreign country. Like what to do when the power goes out and how to budget so I don’t spend too much money on groceries. All of this is a little more difficult because I don’t speak the local language, so I can’t call a maintenance man for help, and the distance and time difference makes it virtually impossible to call my parents and ask for help whenever I need it. I have to rely on my own knowledge, the internet, and my classmates (who are also 20-something). Needless to say, I’ve become very self-sufficient since moving here.
On top of all this, there’s that little thing called culture shock. Basically it feels like your head is a walnut and someone is shaking it so that your brain is rattling around inside. Everything around you is different, the way people act is different, and the way of life is different. Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Some days you just want to drive to the store and get a bag of ChexMix and watch some TV at home. But that’s not an option here: there is no ChexMix, and the only TV available is Netflix. Suddenly all those little things that you’re used to are gone, and you realize you are utterly alone in a foreign country. It begins to dawn on you, that everything is different.
So what have I learned here?
1. I’ve learned that there won’t always be someone to call for help, and sometimes you have to figure things out on your own. And yes, even though you’re young and don’t know how to do some things, you can use your brainpower and solve problems on your own.
2. I’ve realized that nobody has this “adult” thing down pat. There is no secret to how to be an adult; it just happens. You grow up, and learn to take care of things on your own. That’s all there is to it.
3. I think a lot of 20-somethings are afraid to make mistakes or do something wrong, and this lack of confidence is what hinders them more than anything else. So just relax and take a deep breath. You got this!
4. I’m used to people telling me how brave and independent I am for moving abroad as a single 20-something. I put on a brave face, but let’s be real, there are moments when I just ask myself “what was I thinking??” Yes, there are aspects of moving abroad alone that are scary and intimidating, things that I would never have to think twice about back home. But I’m willing to face that challenge, because in the end it’s so worth it!
5. Traveling alone is not as scary or lonely as you expect. It’s freeing, because you can do whatever you want without having to confer with anyone else. You can wander around and do absolutely anything!
6. It’s hard to live in a city where you don’t speak the language. You learn bits and pieces, but it’s especially difficult if you don’t have time to really study it. But if you apply the little you know, you discover it’s not so hard to communicate with a language barrier.
7. Becoming an adult is hard. Moving to a new city, or even country, alone is hard. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged, to miss home and even wish you could leave. But if you take it in stride, it becomes the adventure of a lifetime. You learn how to enjoy your own company, keep yourself entertained, and maneuver a new place all on by yourself. Once you get a handle on things, you begin to get more and more confident in your ability to take care of yourself, and life gets easier. The key is to not be afraid to dive into the unknown.