I know it sounds cheesy, but when I got home for winter break, I felt like a different person. It was this subtle, almost imperceptible change, but it was there: suddenly everything in my hometown felt smaller—or maybe I felt bigger.
I found myself feeling energized and more sure of myself, but the most significant change I noticed was in my conversations and social interactions.
I was back in my hometown for about a month and initially, I was ecstatic to be back; as life-changing and incredible as my first semester was, I think there’s always something to be said about returning home after a long time away. Additionally, I was coming off of a six-week service module in Costa Rica where AC was not promised, but bugs always were—so, needless to say, I was actually really looking forward to returning to my old (freezing) Kentucky home.
I spent my break trying to re-ground myself. I focused mainly on the things that fed my soul–spending time with my people, hot yoga, journaling, eating good food, and watching some comfort movies. I did a couple of odd jobs here and there to make some extra spending cash for the second semester, but I mostly just rested to try to get my body and mind ready to finish out this adventure–except, of course, for New Year's Eve. One of my friends was having a party and I decided to go.
I remember seeing so many people from high school; normally I would stick to my core friends, the people I knew I could have safe and easy conversations with, the people who wouldn’t judge me or challenge my opinions, the people who wouldn’t ask too many hard questions. But I found myself exploring other people that I hadn’t necessarily been that close with in the past, and it wasn’t a conscious decision—I didn’t tell myself I had to do this, I was just genuinely curious and craving a connection with someone new (or rather, someone old in a new way). I felt so incredibly confident in my conversations that night! I felt like I held myself with so much grace while also being a good listener.
In general, I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good conversationalist and could always keep my head held high, even when it sometimes felt like people were patronizing or talking down to me. After coming back from my first semester abroad, it felt like something had shifted and I'd become this master conversationalist.
I remember having a lot of strong female role models growing up; they were usually eloquent speakers and/or ferocious leaders. They carried themselves with so much poise and power. My mom was always one of them—so was my high school Spanish teacher, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the president of my school, Taylor Swift, and my therapist. Suddenly I felt like I belonged with them. I felt like I had finally arrived on their level of grace and self-assurance. And it felt so freaking good.
I think there were a lot of instances during my first semester of my EF Gap Year that pushed me to grow and gain self-assurance; in general, reminding myself that I had traveled to so many new places and had so many different experiences was enough to comfort me through any difficult conversation. I learned to navigate foreign transportation systems, lived in a stranger’s home, booked weekend trips to new countries, got stranded in an airport for 24 hours, planted hundreds of mangrove trees, researched environmental conservation, and learned so many other bucket-list lessons—and I always, always figured it out. So what was to stop me from figuring out this awkward conversation with an old friend who maybe wasn’t the kindest to me in high school?
This isn’t to say I don’t still struggle some days—I definitely still have a lot to learn and I definitely had times at home when I felt like I said the wrong thing or didn’t communicate something properly. We’re all human and it's totally natural to have off days where we really don’t feel like talking to people and just do the bare minimum, but at the end of the day, I’m really proud of myself for the progress I made in becoming more confident during my EF Gap Year.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that in some places in Italy, the bus will not stop at your bus stop unless you tell the driver…