Written by Swati
March 24th 2023
Much of our twenties culminate to a strong sense of self, or a person we come to recognize as we grow older. Some people are known as “too much,” having opinions on every little thing, whereas others are so easygoing and blend in so well they barely exist at all. The overarching light behind studying abroad is the ability to pick up stories and experiences from different corners of Europe. From chatting in pre-med to seat partners in chocolate making classes in Belgium to fumbling through a French conversation with women from Montreal along the Portuguese riviera, pretty soon we’ll all be friends of friends that cover the globe.
In Florence I found a quote by Doris Lessing that has stayed with me over the past few weeks, “Pensa in modo sbagliato, se vuoi, ma pensa con la tua testa.” Think wrong if you will, but think for yourself.
Doris Lessing was also a citizen of the world. Born to British-Zimbabwean parents in Tehran, Iran, she lived in Southern Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe) before moving to London, where she spent the rest of her life writing. It’s ironic that I found a British writer’s quote to be the most moving amongst a wall of quotes from international authors in an Italian bookstore, but the phrase is something I hope to keep by my side for a long time. When you make mistakes, they are yours. When you triumph, those victories are yours. Autonomy and developing a strong sense of self with opinions and desires is the most freeing part of becoming an adult. You are free to explore, free to examine, free to think, and free to observe as you please. Take advantage of that, especially in a place like Europe, where you are peering in through the looking glass. Soon enough, French and the French lifestyle will fit like a comfortable second skin and you will go in search of more adventure.
Break off from your group for a few hours and do the things no one will join you for: museums that only you find interesting about cars or bratwurst, a hike through the hills, feeding birds in a park, reading religious text in a new language. Some things are just yours and you’ll grow more as a person by fostering that love instead of trading it in for that which others find more acceptable or traditionally fun.
I recently read “Everything I Know about Love” by Dolly Aderton, a British journalist, whose quippy memoir warns about the lack of a sense of self. She writes about decades of her party lifestyle that culminate in years of therapy where she grapples with figuring out who she really is. Which anticipates the thought: why do we waste so much time waiting to figure out what it is we like and who we are? I can say with full confidence that I came to Metz to break out of the monotony of my life on the main campus, but also to be away from peering eyes. I didn’t want the noise of competition, drawl about internship compensation, and irritation of far too many assignments to reasonably complete to distract from the fact that I will never be in a position to drop everything and adventure ever again.
Think deeply about who you are, and who you want to be. Run amuck, strike up a conversation with a stranger (during daylight hours and in the vicinity of others-please!), throw flower petals and skip rocks, wave at dogs on the street, and fall so incredibly in love with your life that it physically tears at your heart to have to change it.
What a wild and wonderful thing it is to be you in a world with millions of possibilities and millions of universes in which if one thing changed, your whole life would look different. In the most cheesy, 2012 Tumblr way possible, be yourself because everyone else is taken. Thanks, Oscar Wilde!