The following blog post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Emma Lovelace.

It’s funny how loneliness works. For me, I never really felt alone when I was by myself; it was always when I was in a group of people. Feeling inauthentic and not fully known by those around me was always more devastating than spending time by myself. I have always valued alone time, but this time was usually just spent in my childhood bedroom reading, listening to music, or watching a movie or show. It was just a brief moment to recharge or be lazy without having to answer to anyone. Alone time now has a new meaning to me. Now when I’m alone, it’s time spent nurturing my relationship with myself. Not that I don’t spend time on social media or watch TV anymore, but I have time to check in with myself and create things too. It’s kind of backwards because the more time you spend by yourself, the less lonely you will feel. The more you understand yourself, the less you will have the need to be understood by others.

I felt an internal shift within myself once I was alone in the Charlotte Douglas Airport. There was a part of me that felt freed. I was so excited and finally realized what was happening. I was on my own, traveling 5000 miles away from all I ever knew. I had never as much eaten a meal by myself at a restaurant, but fast forward twelve hours and I was eating a Beyond Burger at a bar in LAX. This one day changed everything for me. It might sound weird, but I felt like I belonged to myself in a way I had never experienced. I stopped caring what other people think, cliche, I know. But it wasn’t in a way where I suddenly became this bold person, throwing all societal norms out the door. Not in a way where I started saying and doing whatever I wanted at the expense of others. It was more like I stopped spending so much time painstakingly thinking over every interaction I had with another person. Wondering if I said the right things or behaved in a way that perfectly portrayed me. I feel like I can now just exist and be human. No more performing or pressuring myself to be more palatable. I guess in a way, I stopped caring about what I think too. I stopped thinking so much about how I appear and more about who I am.

I think another contributor to my feelings of freedom is just finding a place where I feel at home. I have never belonged anywhere as much as I do here. Being able to learn from those with more experience with sustainability and the vegan movement has been such an incredible and humbling experience. Additionally, bonding with animals other than household pets has been something I have wanted for so long. Spending my days hanging out with pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, and chickens has been both rewarding and therapeutic. Their sentience and ability to love and trust humans has just been confirmed since I have been here.

It is surreal to find myself in a place I have only dreamt about for years. I feel so lucky to have this be the beginning of my adult experience. This is only the start of my journey of discovering life outside of the bubble I was confined inside for eighteen years, and I can’t think of any better way to spend it.