Think about the best book you’ve ever read.
I don’t read.
Okay, you’re totally missing out on the best thing ever, but whatever. Think about your favorite movie, then (and I’m not talking about something like Borat, so just…don’t). Undoubtedly, there’s a part when the main character has a bad moment (or several bad moments) when everything just goes to shit. Their significant other leaves them, or they lose their job, or they get screwed over by people they thought were friends, or maybe even a combination. Life gets them down, and they feel hopeless and wonder why they ever took a chance on anything. And you’re on the edge of your seat, wishing desperately that things would go better for them.
And they do. Maybe there’s a grand Hollywood ending where their significant other comes back pleading for them, or their boss begs for them back right after they get their dream job. Or maybe it’s something subtler: they just find the silver lining, and something better comes along that makes them realize that the bad moment helped make way for something great in their lives.
And you ate that shit up. You loved it, and you told your friends, and you watched it a bunch of times on Netflix. That character’s story, with all the ups-and-downs, failures, and successes, spoke to you, touched you, and enriched you.
When I came home last June from my studies in Australia, it was difficult to explain what exactly I got out of my trip, and why my experiences touched me so strongly. I mean, sure, I’ll tell you stories. I’ll tell you about the time I went horseback riding on the beach in Fiji, or when I watched fireworks go off over Darling Harbor. I’ll almost definitely fill you in on my experience scuba-diving at the Great Barrier Reef. If I really like you, I’ll even tell you about the time I got egged on a rooftop of a sketchy hostel in Sydney because my friend was drunkenly belting out Christmas carols (that was a fun night). Go ahead and ask me; I’ll even give you advice on your upcoming trip abroad.
But all of those happy, touristy stories are boring as hell to people who didn’t live them. I loved my trip abroad. But everything I truly learned about myself from my trip abroad happened during the bad moments—during my low points.
The part of my story that makes it worth reading is the part you’ll never hear, because you’ll probably never ask.
I’ll never tell you about the time when I went to the packed club in the city. When I was so short that as the crowd got drunker, they knocked me over, elbowed me in the face, and sloshed their drinks on my head. When I couldn’t find any of my friends because they were all hooking up with guys. When my ass was grabbed and I felt scared and alone; when I sat on the couch at the side of the club, covered in other people’s sticky drinks, crying in a drunken haze because I desperately missed my boyfriend, his laugh, the way he would shield me in crowds, the feeling of his hand softly touching my face. When a friendly-looking guy walked over to me, and I wiped the tears away and smiled, hoping he meant to cheer me up, but he propositioned me instead. When I declined, and his smile melted, and he cursed me, his voice filled with venom. When I got into a taxi, alone, sobbing, only to find that I didn’t have enough money to pay the cab driver.
I won’t tell you about the time I had an incredibly vivid, unbelievably life-like dream where my parents suddenly died. And I sure as hell won’t fill you in on the moment when I woke up from that dream in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, screaming, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. Hugging my pillow to my chest, pleading desperately to some un-seeable force that my mom would appear next to me. Simultaneously cursing myself for being so childish, and asking myself in my sleep-deprived hysteria if I would ever be able to grow up and fend for myself.
You don’t know about these parts of the story because no one wants to hear the bad parts. These are the moments when I doubted myself. When I doubted my dreams. When I desperately missed the life I always knew. When I thought of myself as naïve for ever thinking I could be on my own. When I tried to remember why in the hell I ever wanted to stray so far away from familiarity and comfort. When I felt sick to my stomach at the thought that I would feel like this for days, weeks, months, until I finally boarded the plane to fly home.
These are the moments when I felt lonelier than I ever had in my life.
I won’t tell you about these moments. That’s the part of the story you’ll never hear. But not just because you’ll never ask.
I won’t tell you these parts because you need to experience these moments for yourself.
You sadistic ass.
Yeah, it probably seems it. But if you had told me before that life-changing February that I would have moments like these, I would have lost my nerve. I would have unpacked my bags, sat on the couch, and said to myself, “Dodged that bullet.” I would have sworn off any sort of adventure, anything that challenged me, anything that made me uncomfortable and afraid, because all of that would lead to bad parts of the story.
In other words, I would have written myself a bland, plain story. A story not worth reading, a story that after being written would just collect dust on the shelf.
If you ask me advice about studying abroad, I won’t tell you the truth: that you will absolutely have these moments. You will have moments when you doubt yourself, when your homesickness feels crippling, when you wish desperately you could just go home.
But I will tell you that I had many more fun clubbing nights when I danced the night away, and that my boyfriend and I had a wonderful anniversary dinner via Skype and an even better reunion in June, and that the time difference meant that I was able to immediately get on the computer and talk to my mom about my nightmare. I will tell you that my Australian friends supported me through every bad moment and distracted me through bouts of homesickness.
I will tell you that the bad moments made me stronger and gave me the courage to follow my dreams even if they terrify me. And I’ll certainly tell you that every single bad moment was completely outweighed by the countless good moments.
And that makes for a damn good story.