On “Seizing the Moment”

By Kaitlyn NolanAPI Grenoble Peer Mentor

During my pre-departure meeting, the director of International Programs at my college went through a list of possible scenarios that could arise during our time abroad and what to do in each situation. She talked about what to do if we lost our passports, had our bags stolen, were injured, and any other very real possibility. I left the room, and then the States, feeling confident that if any problems arose, I would be well-prepared.

What I was not prepared for was the fact that life continues even after I’m gone. I can’t say for certain what I thought was going to happen with loved ones back home, but I had this vague idea that American life was put on pause for everyone once I stepped on the plane to France. I learned this lesson the hard way when I received a phone call from my mother three weeks after I arrived in Grenoble. I was excitedly telling her all the places that I was going to show her and the rest of the family when they came to visit that April. She cut me off then to inform me that they were no longer coming to visit as she had filed divorce papers from my father a week earlier.

I was completely blindsided by this news. Things were not well between them when I left, but filing for divorce was not even on my radar. When it finally sunk in, I realized I felt horribly, horribly alone and had no idea how I was going to get through such a devastating event without my usual support systems. I was living with a host family and ironically, the next day my host mom asked if I had received any good news from home. I burst into tears all over this gorgeous French dinner in front of people who were technically still strangers. I was still in the bonding stages with my fellow API students and didn’t quite know how to express myself to them and ask for their support. It seemed to me a terrible tragedy had struck and I was not going to be able to recover on my own. My dream semester of studying abroad was gone.

Throughout the next week, friends told me not to let the divorce affect my semester. I was frustrated with this advice as I couldn’t imagine it NOT affecting my study abroad experience. My life at home turned to shambles. How could that not have an impact on me? However, after I spent some time lost in grief over the loss of my parents’ marriage, I realized my friends were right. There was nothing I could do across an ocean. Regardless of my emotional mindset, I would not be able to truly deal with the situation until I had returned stateside and was back with my family. So I made the conscious decision to seize every opportunity that was presented to me while abroad.

This was already a goal, but it was now made with a fresh perspective. Life changes without any notice and sometimes you can’t do anything about it. All you can do is to make the best of it and try to not let the bad stuff overshadow all the good. I couldn’t exactly forget the fact that my parents were in the middle of a divorce even if I was on a different continent. I had plenty of unhappy phone calls and emails that reminded me of that fact. But I also had plenty of happy conversations in which I wowed my parents with all that I was doing and seeing. When I look back on my experience abroad, there aren’t memories of me wallowing in my bedroom in self-pity that part of my life had changed for the worse. Rather, my memories are of me taking risks, overcoming the challenges associated with studying abroad, and having the most amazing semester of my life. All because I decided to seize the moment.

Kaitlyn studied with API in Grenoble in the spring of 2011, and is currently studying psychology at Stonehill College.

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  1. Sometimes letting go and realizing that things happen is the best thong you can do for yourself while being abroad. For the first two months of living in Spain, I lived on Facebook and agonized over what ky friends were doing. Five years later, I’ve list countless weddings, births, etc. But have lived a much enriched life. Suerte!

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