An airplane flies overhead. My refrigerator buzzes; the sound of war as it combats the heat while attempting to keep my beer, water and expired milk cold. The second hand on the clock ticks, ticks, ticks: one minute later and I’m acutely aware of how dangerously quiet my apartment is even though I reside in a city of millions.
This seclusion may be intimidating, but the benefits of travelling alone are endless. Working abroad in packs or with a companion can become detrimental to the experience you could have had if you had ventured out by yourself.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t get lonely.Travelling alone is one of the most confusingly refreshing, yet painful things that you will ever experience.
That doesn’t mean I don’t crave the idea of spending one hour with my friends, with people who understand me. Language barriers can become physically exhausting. I love my Thai friends, but there isn’t a moment when we hang out that I feel like I'm not putting forth some type of effort. My friends back home can become a comfortable background noise.
I hear the end of a joke; I laugh. I hear the conversation taking a serious turn; I zone in. I am not able to, however, drift in and out of alertness with my Thai friends. Even then, most of our conversations are structured around learning. I listen to what they are saying. I ask what it is they are saying. They try to explain what they are saying. So it goes.
I’m here to tell you this: a silent apartment to yourself may seem daunting. Going out alone may seem like the start to the end of your social life. Eating at restaurants in solitude will oftentimes prove to be fruitless, and you will eventually decide to get whatever is left of your meal to-go and leave with your tail between your legs.
Fret not, because not all of your loneliness will prove to be idle. You will be challenged to ask for directions without the comfort of having your friends nearby. You can explore what you want, when you want to. You won’t feel pressured to move on from a vendor you are preoccupied with because your group of friends is hungry and are turning into ravenous creatures you no longer recognize.
The truth is, travelling alone is one of the most confusingly refreshing, yet painful things that you will ever experience. There will be days you would do some horrifyingly terrible things for the company of your friends back home. That’s okay. Being homesick is natural and it doesn’t mean that you should book the next flight home.
You should relish in the moments you catch yourself smiling in the presence of only yourself. Realize and embrace the moments you find yourself wandering the streets of a city larger than life itself.
Many of you will work abroad not only in a feeble attempt to slightly change the world, but also in hopes of doing some self-exploring. You can’t do that by always being in the company of others.
I would advise keeping a journal. Sometimes the thoughts in my head can become one big mess; jumping over one another in hopes for some attention, coming to me when I would rather be left alone, clawing at the back of my eyes as I cry for the things I wish I could forget. Writing them down becomes a relief of some sort, and you can go back and analyze how you were feeling at a particular moment. Do you feel the same and can you improve upon those feelings somehow if you were having an exceptionally bad day?
I go back and forth with the idea that other people shape who it is we are. Aren’t we just a reflection of what others think of us? What we think of ourselves, alone or not, will, in return, cast back on those we spend our time with in the first place.
Utilize this solitude to do something of real value. Cherish the time you spend alone while working abroad to learn. Learn the language, learn about the people, and learn something about yourself. The possibilities are endless.
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