I had known I wanted to take a gap year between high school and college since I was 13 years old. I vividly remember telling certain people about my idea, having them tell me it was a dumb life move, and that just making me want to do it all the more. I saved every single cent of money that I had since then so I could afford to do so when the time came, and worked my ass off to make as many cents as possible. When I was 17 and still in high school, I took the first step by contacting a woman who us a racehorse trainer in France, as I have worked with horses for my entire life and have been a professional since I was 16, and sent her my credentials along with a way-too-detailed way of asking her if I could come work for her. She told me that I could come try, but since racehorses were completely different than what I was used to, if my nerves or my body couldn't handle it, I would not be welcome to stay. The challenge of learning to ride the racehorses is another story, but I did eventually get the hang of it, and fell in love with the job, the country, and the people in the meantime. This is the story of how challenging it was for me to live alone for the first time, nonetheless in a foreign country.
My angel of a mother flew with me to France for the first two weeks, which was a good thing because I was so scared I probably would have turned around and ran right back home if she hadn't. We spent a bit of time in London and then in Paris before I was to start my time at the racing stable.
The trainer I was working for graciously gave me a room above the stable. It was small, dirty, and lacked decor of any kind. Down the hall, I had a bathroom and a "kitchen", which was actually just a shoebox with a fridge, a microwave, and a sink. When my mom eventually had to leave me in this strange, empty room, a deep pit developed in my stomach and tears filled my eyes even though they refused to fall. I don't think I slept at all the first night. The next morning begins the first day of what would be a long journey with these people and these horses, although I didn't know it at the time. Again, that's another story.
Thankfully, I had lived in France with my family when I was 10 years old for half a year, so I had a good grasp of the language. It wasn't perfect by any means, but since I had developed the ear for the language, I was able to expand my skills very quickly and easily. There was, of course, still the occasional language barrier. And I was forced to learn how to shop, cook, clean, and live by myself in a country where I would immediately get flustered when someone at the grocery store would talk to me. Most days, it was a challenge for me just to ride my bike down town to do some sort of seemingly mundane activity. In order to prevent myself from becoming an isolated hermit in my little cave, I would make myself go downtown at least several times a week and go to a cafe, go shopping, or take the train into Paris (which took all of 15 minutes). My job was so challenging and exhausting that even these little activities at the time sometimes seemed impossible, even more so by myself.
I watched all my friends who were having the typical "college experience" across the ocean from me; going to parties, making new friends, complaining about 9am classes.... Meanwhile, I was waking up at 5:30 am for a job that completely terrified me at the time and going to bed at 9pm. And yet, I remember looking out the window of my little room and being at complete awe of my self, how I took initiative to travel so far to a strange place and try a completely new thing, instead of following the beaten path. I was truly blazing my own trail.
I don't mean that to sound "braggy" at all. It is more of a thank you to my former self who did not simply step outside her comfort zone, but ran away from it, because without her, I would not have experienced the deep joy and adrenaline that came with my job in France. I would not have learned how to navigate Paris by myself and would not have had the pleasure of sitting at little cafés, drinking coffee, watching other people with their own infinitely unique and complicated lives pass in front of me. I would not have learned what I was capable of and I would not have returned a year later to the same place. The crazy people I met in and around my first time living alone would not have imprinted themselves into my life the way they did. I am so grateful to my former self for her immense courage.
I tell people this story and they tell me they could never have done what I did. They also feared they would never have returned to start school. They are of the impression that it is one or the other. Bullshit. If you want it bad enough, then I swear from the bottom of my heart and the corners of the universe, that you can have it.