At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I was unsure of whether to study abroad. I had already taken a gap year before college where I lived abroad for six months. I absolutely loved the experience of (attempting) to learn a new language, trying new spices, learning how to bargain in the street markets, making new friends, and figuring out a different bus system; however, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to undergo all that again.
College was comfortable. A dining hall provided all my meals and I never even washed dishes. My school was in a rural area, so there was no app to download for a different public transportation system. Besides Spanish classes, I never had to consult a dictionary to explain my own thoughts.
I was leaning towards not studying abroad mostly because I was scared to adjust to a new place and didn’t feel the need to. I had already missed my university’s deadline to apply for off-campus study, so it seemed that the decision was set. But then peer pressure got to me. All my friends talking about their upcoming study abroad choices for junior year brought back nostalgia for my gap year. I knew how much fun they would have traveling from my previous time abroad and I didn’t want to miss out.
I knew that even with all the trouble and nervousness that comes with moving to a new country, studying abroad would be worth it. The fun times I had during my gap year outweighed all the stressful times, and most importantly living abroad taught me more about who I am and who I want to be. Immersing myself with people with completely different backgrounds and sometimes conflicting values led me to question my own beliefs. For all of my childhood, I lived in a liberal echo chamber, so I rarely had to defend my own values or political opinions and could be dogmatic at times. I was able to let go of some of my own prejudices towards others with seemingly contrasting beliefs and instead found common principles that we shared. Once my own views were challenged, my values of respect and empathy deepened. Regardless of the fun I had abroad, the insight and maturity I gained made the experience worth it.
So, I figured that despite all the concerns I had about studying abroad I would at least learn from the experience. And studying abroad is fun! Nothing beats traveling and making new friends along the way. But I also had to accept the ensuing awkward and uncomfortable moments: being made fun of for my accent, getting lost on public transportation, or arguing about politics. Rather than worrying about being uncomfortable, I can lean into these moments as a learning opportunity. When I was abroad these unpleasant moments taught me a new perspective on a different way of life and the skills to handle stressful encounters.
Ultimately, I decided to study abroad because didn’t want to give up the rare and privileged opportunity to explore the world and myself.
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Hi! I'm Mira and I'm a Chemistry major at Grinnell College! love taking my dog on long walks and binging a good book. When traveling, I love going on runs to explore new places.