I feel like the two words that are constantly in the back of every young college student’s mind and rolling off the tongue of every backwards-walking college tour guide are always “study abroad.”
I want to backpack through Austria!
“70% of our undergraduate student population participate in at least one international education experience.”
I want to dance in Barcelona!
“Studying abroad is a great way to continue your education with our school while still experiencing an entirely new culture.”
“At our school, study abroad experiences are not only allowed, but encouraged, and we have amazing advisors to help you all along the way!”
I want to travel the world.
I need to find myself.
Whatever your reason for studying abroad, it’s important to just get out there and do it. I come from a family with two parents who don’t really like to travel, so I’d take the annual Florida trip to visit my grandfather, but I’ve never been to Europe, or really even outside of the country apart from Canada. And yet, I’ve always been the opposite of a homebody. I constantly crave adventure and find change exciting, so I’ve known since I was only a freshman in high school that I wanted to study abroad in college.
The biggest reason to study abroad for me is the opportunity for adventure and meeting new people and places. But still, it’s more than that. I’ve always been pretty sure of myself and the type of person I am, but I know living in a completely foreign place will be slightly scary, and therefore an amazing opportunity to push myself and grow. It’s a chance to discover so much about myself that I might never realize if I stay within my comfort zone. For me, traveling abroad is all about finding myself, pushing my boundaries, and growing as an individual through adventure, failure, and success.
This past year has been a crazy one. While masks are coming off now and signs for vaccines are more prolific than those for COVID-19 tests, there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there—especially when it comes to travel. I know the pandemic shook up a lot of people’s worlds: loved ones were lost, businesses closed, bank accounts drained, and mental illnesses surged. It’s therefore no surprise to me that as the world approaches somewhat of a new normal, the thought of studying abroad that was once so exciting to many, is now very alarming. I personally knew 55 people from my university who planned to study abroad this coming fall, 9 of which were going to be in the same program in Milan as me. I now only know seven, none of which will be going to Milan with me.
Those numbers speak for themselves. It’s hard not to feel like we, as rising juniors, were robbed of our college experience by this strange and unforgiving virus, and so it’s equally as difficult to turn our backs on what might be our first “normal” semester of college since the fall of our freshman year in exchange for three months in a scary, foreign country where masks may still be required and quarantines in place. Of all of those that I spoke to about their decision to withdraw from their abroad programs, the rationale was clear: abroad is uncertain, but home is mask-free and unregulated.
I understand them, I do. But I will not be one of them. My mother always told me that she wanted to study abroad in college ever since she was young, but chose not to when the time came because she was worried that she’d miss out on too much at college and with her friends. She now admits that it's one of the biggest regrets of her life.