The Brave New World Of Studying Abroad
After graduating from university two weeks ago, I have been spending some time back at my parents’ home and going through and organizing my belongings. To my surprise, I found my packet of informational materials from when I visited my university as a high school senior. Inside the packet were several brochures about international education and study abroad. I laughed, knowing that part of me always knew that I wanted to spend a semester overseas.
Now, I definitely did not expect it to be Scotland, but that curiosity and naïve bravery were there. It’s funny, because when I studied abroad and met other international students, that same attitude was in almost everyone. Always knowing, maybe not admitting, but that small hope that you’ll have the bravery and opportunity to explore the world and yourself.
When I was preparing to leave the United States and move to Scotland for four months, I was confounded by the number of people that said, “Wow, you’re so brave! I don’t think I could do that.” And as traveled as I was, I thought that maybe I was just used to moving around often and traveling internationally. I wasn’t scared to go, so why was it brave to leave?
The truth is that it is brave to go. Maybe you need the courage to take classes at another university, create a new sense of normal all on your own, buy groceries in a strange store, or make friends intentionally for the first time. Studying abroad, if you do it right, shakes you in the best of ways. It rattles you and shows you what you want and what you need in your life.
If you are like me and wonder why everyone seems to be freaking out more than you are about studying abroad for a semester or even a year (lucky duck), intentionality is your best friend. For some of us, moving around, traveling internationally, or doing things independently is already familiar or normal. The most successful way to feel like you lived (truly lived) in your host country is to be intentional in the relationships you seek, the classes you take, and the lifestyle you follow.
Now, while this is “no duh” life advice, it is quite different when you have everything stripped away that you’re used to. Will you make international friends or local friends? Are your classes important to you or just a reason to be there? Will you travel every weekend? Will you cook your own food or eat at local places every day? Join a club or camp out at the library? There are endless choices that you can choose, and every one of them needs to be taken seriously. Be intentional, and you will regret much less of what you decide to do.
For those who have mustered every bit of their willpower, courage and energy to decide to study abroad, you will not regret it! Be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and deciding to change your life for a few months. If this is one of the first times that you will be noticeably independent or be traveling internationally, remember: be intentional. It helps to remove the fears that you may have recognized or experienced. Don’t be overwhelmed by them, but expect choice to be part of the experience.
I’ll never forget my first weekend in Stirling. All of my roommates left on a trip together to the Highlands and I had decided to stay at home (which really didn’t feel like home yet). I sat inside on a gloriously sunny day and looked out the window at the mountains while gripping a cup of tea. As independent and confident of a traveler that I may portray myself to be, and I often am, I could not get the courage to go outside and explore my host town. But I knew that if I didn’t do it now, on my own, in the beginning, then I never would feel at home. And isn’t that the whole reason we go?
After getting some encouragement from my best friend who was also studying abroad in Germany at the same time, I stepped outside and went exploring. I walked everywhere, wandering into a museum, found a new favorite coffee shop, and bought a book. Despite how awfully uncomfortable it was to do, I am so proud of myself and don’t regret doing it. Be intentional in your life, abroad or at home, and you will likely less regret your choices. Explore and have the courage to start.