“What if it turns out to be better than you ever imagined,” was the quote I included in my blogging correspondent application. I’ve always lived by this idea, but nothing I’ve done in the past has amounted to the level of courage it took to study abroad. I took a leap of faith, especially after everything I had lost so far as a college student due to COVID and every unfamiliar experience I was about to encounter.
It’s insane that I’m back in Chicago in my bed writing to you the same way I did over four months ago when I first sat down to write down my initial thoughts and feelings about going abroad. It feels surreal, really.
I wouldn’t say it necessarily flew by, probably because I did so much within those four months; but, looking back retrospectively, it’s crazy that I’m already back and the semester abroad I’ve always dreamed about is now just over. Being back home feels completely different than it ever has during a break. Even though Bloomington, Indiana has been my home for the past three years, nothing will compare to the comfort of actual home and I’m sure many people can relate to that. This time, though, coming home didn’t feel real, no way was I actually back. For four months, your life changes every day. You experience something new every time you leave your home; the world feels bigger than it ever has. And to go from that lifestyle to the comfort of home, childhood home, is such a weird, abrupt, switch.
Now you’re not here to just hear about a stranger's feelings about being home, you probably get the gist of it from your own imagination. I’ve given a lot of advice while I was abroad, some on traveling tips and the “dos and don’ts,” others about must-see places, and a few about the weird realizations you make while being thousands of miles away from anything you ever knew. This time I’m not really here to give advice, because most of how to make it through living in a new country for an extended period of time will be through your own experiences and learning it yourself.
Watch your spending, budget; travel with friends; plan ahead and accordingly; learn public transportation early on; try new foods, places and things—be open; keep your priorities straight; pack wisely; be patient with your emotions.
All of those will help, but it’ll ultimately be up to you to navigate your own experience.
All I am here to say to you, is to say yes. They say college is for growing and finding who you truly are, and I agree with that, but I think taking new opportunities like these are what ultimately challenge you. Change is the direct action that results in growth. I'm not sure four years on the same campus will provide you with the most growth possible, not that staying at school is a bad thing, just something to think about. These past four months, I can honestly say I learned the most about myself and how independent I really am. I learned what and who I like spending my money and time on most, and gained a lot of clarity about my life back home and at school.
This next part might be incredibly cheesy and clichè, but I can not stress it enough. Yes, grades are important. And at the end of the day, you are there for the purpose of studying; however, so much more goes into learning from your semester abroad than any class you may take. I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge that you go through the most uncomfortable and new experiences you’ll ever undergo. You learn how to not only travel efficiently and often, but internationally. How to handle and navigate bureaucracy and important processes like obtaining a visa or a permit to stay. How to adjust to a new city, country, and culture. All of these things are incredibly important in life and you get to learn them early on in the most raw way. You’ll get stressed, nervous and exhausted…but it’s so worth it when said and done and you get to enjoy this special new life of yours. After these four months I’ve become really proud of myself for everything I’ve managed to accomplish and make for myself.
The four months you spend abroad will be the most intense but rewarding, and beautiful, four months you will ever experience. This is quite literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we are so lucky to be able to have this. Be patient with yourself as you learn to navigate your time abroad, but at the same time take in every last second you possibly can and make the most of it—it quite literally doesn’t last forever. I am beyond grateful for this past semester and am well aware that I will never be able to forget this time and the memories I made.
Thank you to my parents, the IES Abroad staff and my university for gifting me this trip. I know there is always better lying ahead, but after making some of the best memories of my life, this may be hard to top. Thank you Milan, Italy, and Europe.
Buckle up and have the best time of your life, I can’t wait to be on the other end of this computer reading your own stories.
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<p>Hello, my name’s Gracie Weinstein and I am a junior studying political science and journalism. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved to write and have always tried to use my writing to tell stories with others about some of the best, or maybe worst, experiences in my life. I believe in the power of words and the ability it has to connect strangers with one another through their experiences, whether they are shared experiences or not. Writing humanizes people, and helps others relate to them — it cuts down on barriers such as physical appearances (how one’s life looks) and allows for strangers to understand each other. Whether or not those who read my work or see my posts have themselves studied abroad or plan to study abroad, documenting each scary, fun, jaw-dropping, or brand new experience I encounter is so special to share with them. I am very much looking forward to sharing my next few months abroad with others, and hopefully inspire them to make the same decision that I did. Ciao!</p>