I was 15 when I said goodbye to my family at an airport in Medellín, Colombia, and boarded a plane to spend the next six months in Pulheim, Germany.
Spending a semester abroad in Germany was mandatory at my high school to reinforce students’ international communication skills. I attended my school’s preparatory workshops and had studied German since I was five, so I should’ve been ready to go.
However, as I sat on the plane, I dreamt of calling my dad and telling him I wanted to come back home. I’d be attending a new school in an unfamiliar town and staying with my uncle I’d only seen a few times in my life and his children I’d never met.
Since I was very young, I’ve had an irrational fear of being alone. I don’t know how it started, but loneliness scared me more than anything in the world, and the idea of leaving home made me nauseous. I felt vulnerable and scared I wouldn’t be able to face challenges without help from my loved ones.
To my surprise, those difficult six months abroad taught me to accept loneliness as a healthy feeling and showed me I was capable of dealing with my problems independently.
As soon as I arrived in Germany, my fear of loneliness immediately manifested into reality.
Pulheim had a small population compared to Medellín, and even though I managed to make friends at my new school, we had different interests and the language barrier prevented us from fully connecting. My uncle and cousins didn’t want to be involved in my life even though I was staying with them, so I handled all my school paperwork and scheduled appointments for my immigration status by myself.
I struggled with loneliness throughout my life, but to cope with its intense impact in a new country, I took advantage of my location and decided to explore independently, especially with visits to the nearest city, Köln. It was the biggest city close to me and the train was cheap, so it was a convenient ride.
Every weekend I’d say goodbye to my family, put my headphones on and take the train by myself preparing to explore the city.
One day, I went to Brühl, another city where some friends from home who were participating in the same exchange program were staying. It started off as a rare good day abroad, but on the way back, the train broke down, and I was stranded in a small town I didn’t know.
I tried calling my uncle to get directions to his house, but the local WiFi wasn’t strong enough. It was getting late, and I didn’t want to be alone in the dark, so I started walking in the same direction the train was meant to go.
After walking aimlessly for almost an hour, the train tracks eventually led me back to my uncle’s house.
“I didn’t even notice you were gone,” was the first thing he said when I walked through the door.
I’d never felt so alone in my entire life.
My family and I were extremely disconnected, and being with my friends for that short time only reminded me how much I missed my life in Colombia. I wanted to have someone I could count on. I wanted someone who would help me.
I continued to explore Köln to occupy my time and distract myself from loneliness. I spent days wandering around and sitting next to the Rhine River, as the blue water helped me relax.
After a couple of months, I realized I liked visiting museums and just walking around listening to music because it gave me the chance to think about my life and explore my interests, like admiring art and writing short stories.
Being able to find joy during those lonely months showed me loneliness isn’t always a bad thing, and it could even be fun.
I was able to think about myself and my future. I previously thought of myself as someone who constantly needed to be surrounded by supportive people, but handling my legal and personal issues without any help taught me I’m more capable of dealing with setbacks than I thought. I liked not needing anyone to solve my problems for me.
The independence I discovered in Germany encouraged me to go to college in the United States a few years later.
As an international student at Temple, I spend a lot of time by myself, especially during breaks when all my friends are home with their families and I’m in my room alone. I don’t have any family near me, so I deal with all the challenges of life on my own.
But I no longer fear being alone. I embrace it and take the opportunity to actually enjoy time with myself.