ZOË SULLIVAN-BLUM- I am not good at being alone. I thrive on time spent with other people. As much as I have tried to make myself enjoy being alone, I can only take so much of it. I do enjoy a few hours in a cozy coffee shop with a good book and some time to people-watch, but anything more than that and I start to lose it. I am definitely happiest when I am with friends and family. We don’t have to be doing anything exciting, even just sitting at the same table while we do homework or watching a movie together. The presence of other human beings, particularly ones that care about me, is what keeps me going. My mother (one of them) is different. She likes going to movies by herself and going on solitary walks in the woods. The thought of going to a movie by myself makes me want to throw up. For me, there is really no point in experiencing a movie or a meal if I cannot share it with other people. In addition, not only do I need time with people, I need physical contact. I’m a person who cuddles, who hugs, who plays with people’s hair and causally tucks an arm around a friend’s shoulders. Some of my favorite people are not like this at all. One of my closest friends at Skidmore, and my housemate this past semester, is not a touchy-feely person. Yet, when I came back from a night out I had a tendency to sneak into his room and cuddle. I know that he loathed this little drunk ritual of mine. But he almost always put up with it; he knew how much I needed it to be happy and to feel loved. One of my other best friends from high school (who will be visiting me in Madrid in less than 2 weeks!) was never a big snuggler until this past year, and is still much less of one than I am. But we both know that as soon as she gets here I will practically drown her in hugs and arm-in-arm walks. She goes along with it for me, the same way that my Mom never goes to movies alone anymore, even though for all I know she wants to, because she knows how much I love going together and she enjoys sharing that with me. Friends and family do this for you. When someone is your person, they are there for you in whatever way you need them to be.
But since I have been in Spain, these midnight snuggles, constant cuddles, and perpetual hugs have been much less frequent. I have friends here, but no one tells you how hard it is to leave your people. How hard it is to move into a house with a family when you’ve been living in close quarters with your friends for the last two and a half years. Indeed, one of the hardest things about my study abroad experience has been the sudden burst of alone time and the sudden lack of physical affection. In the US, we spring from our homes and our parents into dormitories full of other young adults, eventually moving into apartments or other forms of “adult” living, surrounded by our friends. Living with a family again, especially one in a country where young people frequently live with their parents well into their mid-20s, has been an adjustment. In a lot of ways it is quite comforting. Language-wise it is wildly helpful. Spaniards do not typically have friends over or hang out in the house the way we do in the States, I have to leave the house in order to hang out with my friends and in some ways that’s wonderful. But in other ways it has made me feel really lonely. Yes, I live with a loving host family, I see friends and peers every day in classes, and I am constantly surrounded by other warm bodies on the Metro. But the truth is that it isn’t the same. Even amidst a crowded train, a classroom full of laughing students, a house filled with the purring of cats and the jovial bickering of my host brothers, I still feel alone sometimes.
This has definitely been good for me. I needed to be forced to spend more time alone, to explore what it is like to eat by myself or take a long commute in silence. But in some ways, I have also learned that it is okay to accept that I need to spend time with people in order to be happy. Of course, I am meeting new people here and forging stronger bonds with people I already knew. I am gaining new friends. Study abroad is an amazing experience in many ways and I am by no means ready for it to end. But there is something about sitting down on the couch next to my housemates, putting my feet on top of theirs on the coffee table; something about kicking off my heels and crawling into my friend’s bed at 2:00 AM; something about going crazy with my friends late at night in the library because of essays we should have started days before that tells me I am home. Alone time is good. Learning about myself is good. Having a complicated relationship with my own feelings is good. Studying abroad in general is more than good. But when I go back to my friends, when I go back home, well that’s going to be good too.