Falling in Love Abroad

By Maria Caire

A journey abroad was just the thing I needed. A place with new people, new languages, new culture, and plenty of things to keep my mind off of what I had left behind.

It was on my trip to Peru that I learned to accept and love myself. Before leaving, I had a burning desire to be anywhere but where I was. As I let my insecurities take over my mind, I grew more lonely and painfully self-conscious. However, while in Peru, that sense of loneliness dwindled.

I had only myself and, for the first time in a while, I was okay with that. There is power in spending time with yourself.

The reassurance that no one knew me lended the liberating opportunity to be myself. Soon, my debilitating habit of nitpicking every single one of my perceived flaws deteriorated. When I ceased my interior fight to accept and love myself, I could take in the world around me. I loved studying Peru: the people, the architecture, the landscape.

I am a nerd for architecture. I find beauty in every crack, slope, tile, door. In my examination of each building, I learned that there remain flaws in every piece of architecture I encountered. To this I question: if I can find astonishing beauty in each architectural blemish, why do I refuse to accept the beauty in mine?

Aligning myself with the culture of Peru taught me that my world is not the world. I felt as though Peru was a complete opposite universe to the fast-paced life lead in Los Angeles. Abroad, not once did I encounter someone who did not appear at peace and, more importantly, appreciative of the world they were given. I was unexpectedly given a chance to examine where I could instill balance into my life and identify what aspects of my life I am grateful for.

What I didn’t expect was to lose everything I had learned abroad. All the self-love I had been practicing evaporated almost as soon as I returned home. I was thrown back into the same rapid lifestyle, despite the promise I made to myself to maintain balance. Maybe it was because I was plugged back into social media; perhaps it was because I had more ways to occupy my time than reading, exploring, or hiking.

At a certain point I took a step back to think about what was happening to me and these questions came to mind:

  • Where’s the girl who told her mom that she wanted to wear board shorts and Paul Frank tees because none of the other girls in her grade did?
  • Where’s the girl who didn’t question whether she looked okay every time she encountered a new social setting?
  • Where’s the girl who didn’t feel sick to her stomach as a result of letting the overbearing amount of perceived flaws hijack her thoughts?

I knew her. She was at peace. She was confident. She was happy. And I hadn’t seen her since I was a young girl.

So, not even Peru could save me. I was so tired of myself. I couldn’t take it anymore. The pity party had to come to an end. No plane tickets, self-help books, relatable movies, cute boys or pretty cups of coffee would change how I felt about myself.

It all comes down to understanding one thing: Love is a choice.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I give myself my self-worth. No matter how much someone loves me (or says he or she does), that person cannot give me the important qualities of self-worth/love/acceptance. I have to obtain it for myself. Self-confidence is one of the most attractive qualities a person can possess; learning to be in love with who you are is the first step in getting there.

Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective and experience for one to realize a change is needed.

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