After being away from home for almost five years, I can share a little of what it means to live all on your own in a foreign country. Many people romanticize the idea of living abroad alone, but not many speak of the reality of it. I was very excited to finally pursue a goal of mine in a foreign country, France. The goal was not primarily the country, but I managed to live here for this long as part of the journey.
Initially, I didn’t intend to visit home, especially in my first year. Then COVID-19 happened during my second year and while finishing my master’s studies. In addition to adjusting to our new reality of living in a pandemic. Anyhow, so many changes from being a student abroad to entering professional or real life away from academia afterward. It wasn’t the first time I experienced that uncertainty while living in Libya. However, the risk was higher here; it still is, given that it is not my home country. As a result, I didn’t return home during this entire period.
As much as I enjoy my own company, given my personality and the fact that I chose to be alone, I still find living alone complex. I admit this after this long, and it is not due to external factors or challenges. I have faced many obstacles since I arrived in this country. Nonetheless, over a year ago, I began to feel the reality of living alone. Living alone means you must deal with a version of yourself you thought you knew but barely met in your lifetime. When you are living with your family, and because of the different lifestyles and routines in a family household, you rarely have time for yourself. However, when I moved to France, I didn’t realize this. As much as I was ready to move, I forgot I would be completely with myself.
Indeed, living alone is a great experience, an opportunity not many get. While having it, you get to experience many things personally. No one tells you that you will be alone most of the time. I am here to highlight the personal side of living alone, not the responsibility part of it.
Living alone also means discovering how courageous, fragile, scared, and resistant you can be during hard times. Believe me, as much as humans can be prepared for difficult circumstances; you will find that you are not that prepared once you face them abroad. It also means that making friends will not be easy, and you won’t likely make many. Although you will meet many people, they will not become your friends, and that’s okay. You will prepare and eat most of your meals alone, which isn’t always lovely. No one tells you about the long silence you will live through and the days spent in silence unconsciously. You will also learn to take yourself out, without anyone, on walks, hikes, museums, etc., which is not easy for everyone.
In addition, it means you will feel many unpleasant feelings alone when you wish you had your loved ones by your side. Loneliness, in a literal sense, is not easy to handle. It can make you make unnecessary decisions to fill a void inside you. Learning and unpacking specific tools to deal with it healthily took me a while. The good part of this experience, among many, was that I got to understand myself better and react and interact better with my environment. It took many trials and errors, but it worked, eventually. Here, I am not forgetting that this experience of learning and unlearning one’s behavior and traits is a life journey. It doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at a specific age or location.
Overall, this experience made me appreciate the importance of having close people around you, whether it will last longer or not. Life is not meant to be lived alone; sharing it with the right people and spending time with your family make a huge difference. It made me realize the importance of companionship, something I never thought I would admit its importance before, and it doesn’t mean I am weak but rather a human. Here, I am referring to the correct, poised, and healthy one, as it can make your experience less tiring when things get rough, even if you’re alone.
Regardless, I am grateful that I have gotten to experience this journey so far alone. Because of that, I got to work on myself in ways I never thought I would. At least now, I speak from the point of self-acceptance and compassion I didn’t have before. Family is fundamental, and I appreciate it even more now.
Thanks to this experience, I realized many things and learned many lessons to help me deal with what’s to come later in life. It made me specific in my relations. I am very particular in my interactions and pay attention to people’s energy and how it impacts me. Due to living abroad alone, I realized that understanding and remaining true to yourself can make a huge difference in how you deal with anything and everyone around you.
I forgot to mention that every experience abroad differs, especially when transitioning from being a student to full-time working. So as much as people romanticize living alone and abroad on social media, you have to be realistic about it. Always keep an open mindset but stay true to yourself and your values. Remember that what is portrayed about living alone abroad is not necessarily true. Finally, as rewarding as it can be when you invest right in it, it can have many hardships that sometimes feel too heavy to handle.