Are you thinking about studying away? Scouring the depths of the internet for some inspiration or motivation? Well, there's A LOT of advice out there — trust me I consumed loads of blogs, articles, and youtube videos before making my decision. But honestly, at times I felt a bit lost in the racket of pithy blog titles and filtered photos. Whose top five tips for applying to study away programs are the best? Which destination is everyone else enjoying — I saw that one cool upperclassman friend group all went to Florence? How many scholarships should I apply to? Is an E SIM card better than the traditional SIM card? Should I wear ripped jeans in Europe?
Obviously, by writing this short column now I'm effectively adding to the noise. However, my approach is decidedly different. I urge you to take a step back and forget everything you've read or heard. And ask yourself why do you want to study abroad?
Personally, when I sat down and asked myself this question the first time, I didn't know why. My gut response was to regurgitate the unspecific aphorisms passed on from everyone else — “study abroad changed my life,” “I really stepped out of my comfort zone,” or “developing a global perspective is so important.” While all of these conclusions have their merit (all of the cliches are likely cliche because they are largely true), I challenge you to think specifically and deeply why you want to go abroad — write it down even.
Perhaps your why centers around a place, perhaps it centers around academic exploration, perhaps it centers around a language, or perhaps cultural heritage
Sure you may want to go abroad, but what about studying architecture in Argentina sets your soul on fire? Do want to go to London because your friends said the pubs are good or instead because you love Shakespeare and want to immerse yourself in a theatrical visit to the Globe?
Now you may think this sounds a bit silly — it sure felt silly when a professor of mine suggested this method to me — but I offer myself as proof that writing down your goals and intentions can help you embark on a study abroad experience best for your unique objectives.
Personally, I found my why in my favorite cookie. Part of me always felt guilty that the only German word I remembered from my mom’s bedtime stories was Lebkuchen, and honestly, that’s only because it also happens to be my favorite Christmas time dessert. Growing up as a first-gen American, like many others who identify as first, I’ve struggled internally and externally with striking a balance between preserving my parents cultures and identifying with the culture around me. Now, as a first-gen college student tackling academia, I’ve had the opportunity to explore my cultural heritage in new ways — most recently, by taking a TurboDeutsch, an intensive language class.
Additionally, as I’ve had the chance to cultivate my own interests, I’ve fostered a greater understanding of environmental issues and a desire to advocate for a sustainable future. The Freiburg Environmental Studies & Sustainability Program emerged as the ideal synthesis between my desire to explore my cultural heritage as well as my environmental aspirations, yet this discovery began with an in-depth internal exploration.
Admittedly, once you've figured out your why, I can't promise that the rest will be easy. You still need to figure out which scholarships to apply to and what phone plan you need. But with a reason, the anxiety around leaving and whether or not you should has made so much more sense (again speaking from experience here). If you don't know why, why go? That being said, if you don't know why, maybe you just haven't found the place for you yet or maybe your why isn't a place, it's the adventure. Regardless, the most important aspect of this process is introspection, and I encourage you to think about your why.
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Hi y'all! My name is Bekah. I'm a junior at Williams College; inside and outside the classroom I'm interested in all things food justice. You'll also often find me on mini-adventures collecting flowers, ticket stubs, and stickers for my scrapbook!