A Letter to my Pre-study Abroad Self

Today marks a year since I left for what I'd consider to be the start of the most adventurous season of my life. A year ago I left for Florence, Italy to live and study for four months (just in case you didn't know). As I was looking through old photos and notes on my phone, I came across a collection of words I wrote while abroad and shortly after I returned. On the flight home, I decided it would be a good time to write a note to pre-study abroad Mariah. I often am asked for advice on this topic, so here's an honest note to self that I'd like to share with you: 

Dear me four months ago,

I thought this would be easier, but I do have to tell you there are tears in my eyes as I write to you. No, no, no not sad tears, they’re good. They’re the good kind. First off: good news, your plane didn’t go down (haha!). I know you were freaking out about that so I thought I’d just tell you now so you’ll actually calm down for a minute and listen to what I have to say.

These four months will be the most challenging and wonderful ones you’ve ever experienced. You might as well throw all your expectations out the window now because this has been unlike everything you worked it up in your mind to be. It'll be so different than you've imagined- in the best way.

You’re going to see the world. I know your heart is racing at the thought of becoming a world traveler, as it should be. You’ll climb to the highest points you’ll lay eyes on and jump into water so clear you’ll think you’re dreaming. You’ll find your new favorite coffee shop, learn how to communicate with those who speak another language, have more gelato than you can think of, and walk the streets that thousands have before you. You’ll experience history, you’ll step into the pages of what you've only heard in lectures before and experience it for yourself. 

You’ll be brave enough to travel on your own. You’ll be crazy enough to pick a random place on a map and go. I know being alone scares you, and it still does, but guess what- you’re really not alone.

Take time to do things for yourself. Yes, yes putting others first is so important, but there will be times where you need to take the time to be alone. Walk around Florence more, don’t be afraid of interacting with people. Guess what? By the end, you’ll be a little braver, a little more cultured, you’ll learn more outside of the classroom than in it. 

Just a fair warning, times will get tough. You will feel homesick. Relationships will become a little rocky. Yeah, it isn’t ideal when there isn’t anywhere to take refuge from these problems, but you’ll just have to learn to face them head on. Learn to stand up for yourself. This period of time you’ll never want to be home more, but please get past what you’re going through. Acknowledge it, but don’t let peoples words rule your thoughts. Hold onto the words that do matter. Remember that Jesus’ love for you isn’t conditional and certainly isn't based on how people perceive you. Maybe you did fail your friends, maybe you didn’t, all I can say is you’ll learn so much from this even though it hurts. Remember whose you are, never forget who you are. Sometimes people will hurt you unintentionally or intentionally… see through that. I know you want to take everything personally, but remember the person on the other side just wants to be seen, loved and known. Do your best to look more like love.

You will fail at looking like love at times too. Your emotions are going to be kind of crazy, and by that I mean you'll just feel a lot. But don’t let them rule you. It can become so easy to internalize everything, to take others actions and words to heart but please remember your purpose. People won’t see Jesus when you’re sulking about the little things. It's okay to be sad, there is a time to be vulnerable, but just keep in mind you may be the only glimpse of Jesus people will see. 

More good news: times will get better again. You will get through this!! God holds true to his promises, He will always be with you to guide you.

I know your greatest hope for this adventure is to see God in new ways, to experience Him through traveling. You will. You’ll see Him everywhere. You’ll feel him when you feel alone, you’ll feel him when you’re at your highest point. He is everywhere. He is everywhere you go, take the time to sit and hear him. These are the moments you’ll feel closest to him, hold onto that. 

I know there is a pressure inside you, this pressure to continue to do things that will impress others- forget that. Quit living your life as if it needs to be perfect. It's not. You won’t connect with anyone by putting on a show. Just let go of any sort of pride you have because the only reason you even have this opportunity is because of Him. I know you know how far He’s carried you. This adventure isn’t about showing off or taking pictures, no. Live your life to please God. He wants you to have fun, he wants you to share all of the amazing things you have the chance to do, just remember you didn’t make it here on your own. 

So, get some sleep. Rest in that peace. You’re leaving in a few short hours. Your bags are packed, your tickets are printed, you have everything you need and more.  Enjoy the anticipation because you’re about to experience life abundantly. Time will fly like it never has. You’ll grow in more ways than you can imagine and you’ll experience more things in four months that many won’t in their entire lifetime. I can’t believe I’m already writing this letter to you. your heart will hurt because you will fall in love with the people, the culture, the cities and leave shortly thereafter. Don’t spend too much time being saddened by how quickly your time here went, be overjoyed that you are able to return with stories that sound like dreams. It’s through tears that I tell you- enjoy every moment, it’s a beautiful adventure.

xx, you four months from now