Postcard from Abroad: On Walking Alone, Celebrating Solitude & Falling in Love with a City Across the Pond
By Katie Oglesby // Fall ’21 Magazine Editor
If anyone knows anything about me, it’s that I’m anxious most of the time, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that being abroad has been a real test of my anxiety—travel anxiety, social anxiety, academic anxiety (you name it and I’ve probably had it here)—but being abroad has also been freeing.
One of the hardest things for me is spending time by myself, which is funny, because if you asked me to describe myself, I’d probably say something about how introverted I am. No one would really guess that I have a hard time keeping myself company, especially considering I grew up as an only child so I never had all that much company to begin with aside from my parents.
But here in Bath, England, in a city I’ve never been to before, and with so many things I want to do, I’ve had to learn how to celebrate solitude, how to spend time with myself and have fun, how to not care if you’re the only person eating alone in a cafe, how to navigate trains and tubes by myself, how to walk a museum without a sidekick. Sometimes it can be lonely, but I’ve taught myself that if I want to do something, I can’t wait for other people to want to do it with me.
Some of my greatest experiences in England have been alone. A few weeks ago, for example, I went to one of my favorite cafes—Pulteney Bridge Coffee—overlooking the River Avon. I ordered tea and a muffin (because, really, I’m in England) and sat and read a book for class. Then, I strolled along the river, one of my favorite places to walk and take in the view of the city, and looped back around to a bookstore I love and haven’t visited enough lately.
When I was in Oxford for our residential program trip, I appreciated the opportunity to make more friends in my program, hang out with people I don’t live with in my house in Bath and spend time with people in my classes that I don’t normally see otherwise. But one of my favorite days was my last full day in Oxford when I spent two hours in the afternoon touring Magdalen College (C.S. Lewis’s college) and Merton College (J.R.R. Tolkien’s college) and walking along the meadows by Christ Church College. It was a gorgeous day after being very rainy and miserable the day before, so I pulled on the Oxford crewneck I had just purchased instead of my winter coat, took out my sunglasses and spent the afternoon by myself enjoying the sights of a city I would be leaving too soon.
One of my new mottos is simple, but important to me: it’s worth it. It’s worth the extra few pounds leaving my wallet if I’m doing something I’ll later regret not doing. It’s worth the time I could be spending on homework because I’ll never be back here again. It’s worth doing alone because if I wait for someone else to do it with me, I might not get to do it at all.
Studying abroad has been a test of my anxiety, of my ability to spend time with myself, but it’s worth it, so worth it, to walk out of my flat every morning to a view of Pulteney Bridge and Bath Abbey and know I’m so, so lucky to be in England for a whole semester.
This article originally appeared on page 20 of the April 25, 2022 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.