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Kate Schulman
Noodle Expert Member

December 18, 2019

Life abroad is less about becoming a "citizen of the world" and more about learning to be comfortable with yourself and the things you enjoy—even if they're somewhat embarrassing.

While studying abroad in London during my junior year of college, I shared a flat with six other students. Our neighborhood looked quintessentially British with rows of stark white plaster, crawling ivy, and wrought iron gates dotting the pavement. Our landlord was a tall man called Ali who, given how many times he came over to fix something, nearly qualified as our seventh roommate.

While quaint on the outside, our flat was a revolving door of chaos. An illness one of us picked up in the damp weather would find its way to the rest of us. We'd come home after a night of dancing and find we'd been locked out. Surfaces, no matter how hard we scrubbed, were never truly clean. We'd wake up to find a man of indiscernible Eastern European descent fixing something we didn't realize we had. We laughed nervously and wondered aloud whether or not the carbon monoxide alarm worked. It rarely did.

But even in these little dramas, there was so much good. On late nights, we would run back from Tesco with whatever wine and treats could get, plop on the couch, and laugh and vent about our classes and professors. The flat was my first apartment and, looking back, living in it felt like a millisecond. The whole term itself was a microcosm of chaos, wonderment, wet coughs, and fun. I was so lucky to experience it at all.

Many people think that studying abroad must be the greatest time of your life

That, or you should use the experience to fall in love or at least find yourself in a Swiss meadow or something of the sort. While these things can become real if you'd like them to, they are not imperative to a fulfilling experience. You shouldn't feel pressured to bump into a gorgeous Italian man while strolling by the Trevi Fountain in Italy and moving the Tuscan countryside together, where you'll make fresh pasta for the rest of your days. Of course, this scenario does sound quite fabulous, but this sort of thing doesn't happen in real life, and that's fine. It would be more likely that the Italian man would end up "not feeling it anymore" after a couple of months and gaslighting you into oblivion. Or worse, getting really into crystals.

The notion of leaving home to find out who you are when you are (most likely) 19 years old is ludicrous. While anyone who leaves home for a term spent in a Balkan village will probably encounter an eye-opening experience, studying abroad for a semester or two will not give you all the answers. But sometimes, and I mean very rarely, someone does find the meaning of life in a foreign country. And this someone was me.

You may find yourself in the most unexpected ways... and places

The TGI Friday's near Trinity College in Dublin is tucked away on Fleet Street and Westmoreland, and could not be more inviting in the pouring rain if it tried. I was visiting an Irish friend with another American friend one weekend when I first discovered it. Our Irish friend had to tend to business during one day of our stay, so we Americans killed time traipsing the streets of Dublin.

It was, as the Irish say, lashing rain that day, and it was a cold rain. My umbrella turned inside out, and my shoes and jeans were soaked. As the rain worsened, we ran down the road looking for a place to hide from the weather. Then we saw it: that telltale red and white sign, bright and beckoning us like a religious vision. TGI Friday's. My friend and I both looked at each other for a moment as if to say, "Really? Are we, two Americans who are trying to engage in the local culture, about to step foot into possibly one of the most American places to exist?" The answer was a resounding, "yes."

If you do not already know this, the inside of a TGI Friday's is insane, and we should treat it as such. However, and perhaps this is because I am American, I find a restaurant that looks the same no matter its location immensely comforting. Were we participating in global consumerism that day by drinking Cokes and sharing garlic parmesan wings instead of Guinnesses and barmbrack? Maybe. But as I sat there sipping Coke, eating something smothered in sauce, I felt perfectly content. In this sense, I know that the key to life abroad isn't necessarily to become a "citizen of the world." Instead, it's often about learning to be comfortable with yourself and the things you enjoy—even if they're extraordinarily American and, because of this, somewhat embarrassing.

Life is messy; it is kind; it is tough; it is beautiful, and so much more. I am not any closer to having the answers, but having that moment—that four-month moment in the U.K.—makes me feel like I was a part of something so special. As a student, I was part of a group of Americans who were thrown into the deep end together and tasked with helping each other stay above water. And for those memories, I will be thankful for the rest of my life. To them, I raise a glass of Coke with the advice that, if you can help it, get a sizzling platter at the TGI Friday's in Dublin, on me.

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Kate Schulman is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter @kaschforgold and check out more of her work at