When I was a senior in high school, I applied to three schools. Not that I was cocky enough to limit my pool so much, but there wasn’t a lot of options that made the “close enough, but far enough away” requisite from the middle of Ohio. In the end, I chose the most expensive and furthest away (that also provided the most in scholarships) – Syracuse University.
The thing that no one tells you while growing up in a small, fairly rural part of Ohio is that you’ll need the ability to make friends later in life. I was with the same group of kids from Kindergarten to 12th grade in high school, and one of my best friends was made at the age of three with this zinger of a line: “Hi, I’m Megan, want to play with my toys?”
As an 18-year-old, that line didn’t quite work. I went to Syracuse knowing no one, but made a few fast friendships from my dorm. Going abroad was thought of as almost a requirement for my International Relations major, and once I made my decision of where (Europe), the only decision left was when. Going abroad in my sophomore year meant more time in the U.S. doing internships and gaining work experience, so, with a little parental coaxing, I found myself in Amsterdam, Paris, Belgium, Geneva, Barcelona, and Madrid at 19 years old.
(For more pictures, go over to My Travels here).
Academically, physically? I was absolutely ready. Emotionally and socially? Absolutely not. I hadn't taken into account the fact that people tend to study abroad in friend groups, and I was the only other sophomore there (aside from a tall, svelte girl that looked and acted more like 22 than 19). In class, I knew who I was, and I knew what to do to succeed – study the material, memorize a few key words and facts, be aware of quizzes and exams. Outside of class, however, it was a different story. I was trying to keep up on a social, alcoholic, and fashionable level with girls that made everything seem effortless and beautiful. On the outside, I smiled – but on the inside, a casserole of insecurity, anxiety, and depression stewed.
Everything finally came to a head the night I imbibed too much, and brought a whole other level of shame on myself. I wanted nothing more than to dig a hole and live there for the rest of the semester abroad. Alas, as John Mellencamp sings, “Life goes on”.
If you’ve hung in this far, you’re wondering where the punch line is – after all, the title is “Why EVERY Student Needs To Travel Abroad’. I still think about that semester, and look back on it with a fondness that only time can give.
I say every student needs to travel abroad because I look back on my experience, and the experiences of others, with respect. Going abroad- with a group of friends, or alone- brings about a lot of personal growth. You learn to trust not only in the system set out for you, with schoolwork providing a necessary structure, but also in yourself. You learn to become comfortable with being alone, observing another culture, country, and new groups of people. You learn to go with the flow, roll with the punches, book your own travel, and take care of yourself. Immersing yourself in another language and another culture will pay back in dividends down the road, as long as you keep your mind open and memory banks ready for more. Once thought of as a cushy experience for rich students only, studying abroad can be affordable with the right tools like work study, or finding side jobs.
In such a global economy, international experience will only serve as a benefit, no matter what your major is: Women’s Studies, Business, Finance, Entrepreneurism, International Studies, or Culinary Arts. If history really does repeat itself, shouldn’t we really learn about as much history as possible? To learn that history, what sounds better: reading a textbook on a quad on an American campus, or going to a local museum and looking at the depictions of that history?
As for me? I’m glad to leave those old experiences in Spain, and I know when I travel back, I’ll greet the country again as a whole new me.