A Story Of Self-Discovery: Finding True Love Abroad

The fall before I set out to study abroad, I sat my boyfriend down and finally said something that had been weighing heavily on my mind.


“I don’t want a boyfriend when I’m abroad.”

We had spent part of the spring and all that summer together down at school, training for the Chicago Marathon, cooking dinners, laughing and getting to know each other. Our relationship had grown quicker than either of us had expected and we had become close in those months when campus was silent and everything was green. But with fall quickly approaching and my plane ticket to Bologna purchased, I was facing a painful decision that I knew from the start would be inevitable.

He was confused. “I don’t understand, why give up on such a good thing?”

It was a valid question. But I had known from the beginning that I had wanted to go into my six-month study abroad program with an all-or-nothing attitude that extended beyond casual hookups and Euro-flings.  I wanted to free myself from any and all unnecessary attachments, and the guilt that comes from not maintaining contact with someone thousands of miles away.

At first I felt that this was a selfish act, that I wasn’t considering his feelings and that I wasn’t being open to the idea of trying to make something substantial out of a relationship that could have so much potential.

Then I realized, that’s exactly what I wanted.

I didn’t want to consider his feelings and I didn’t want to discover what our relationship could become, I wanted to discover my feelings and what my relationship with myself could become.

With that in mind, we said our goodbyes, and I mentally prepared myself for a no-holds-barred journey to Italy.

There were plenty of times where I would get lonely and long for a relationship. Being in a language immersion program makes local English speakers scarce and casual conversations become exhausting ordeals peppered with mispronunciations and halted phrases. I missed having someone there to give me a kiss and tell me that everything would be ok. But at the same time, I loved watching myself become self-sufficient. It was liberating to be on a schedule that I deemed appropriate and to travel without frantically scheduling every bus and train ride around Skype dates and internet access.

When Valentine’s Day came around, several of the girls in our program got together, went out for dinner and found a local piercing studio. We celebrated our love for each other with red wine, too much pasta and cartilage piercings, and it was one of the best Valentine’s Days I had ever had. I wasn’t thinking about past relationships or future ones. I wasn’t dwelling on the fact that I didn’t have a boyfriend and that it seemed that so many other girls did. That night, I was exactly where I wanted to be, and I was blissfully happy.

Falling in love abroad always involves discovery. Whether you fall for a place, a person, an idea, or even a food, every instance of love takes a hold of people and twists them, turns them inside out and reshapes them in a way they never thought possible. Both entering love and leaving it is scary because no one knows how it will end or, in some cases, if it ever will. But with every experience and every emotion, every person comes out learning something new about themselves and the world around them.

I happened to fall in love with a place and with people in a way that I had never allowed myself to before: freely and without inhibition. I learned about values I admire, traits I desire and ideas that inspire. And conversely, I discovered more about what I didn’t like, what I didn’t need and what I should avoid. Maybe there are others that can do this and maintain a relationship, but I didn’t belong to that group.

So I say go ahead and fall in love. Fall head over heels for a scenic view, a hidden restaurant, a group of people, or even one special person. But above all else, take a leap and fall in love with yourself.

Alexandra Cooper

Allie never says NO to an adventure. She packs more shoes than pants, while she can't travel without her stuffed animal: Monkey. Her favorite country is Italy.

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