College is a beautiful time. There is space and community to explore. For most, college is four years of self-discovery and refinement. We walk out at the end with a degree, but the journey to arrive at that moment is profoundly complex. Many choose to stay on their home campus for the entire time. Those that decide to study abroad, however, come back with a fresh perspective. If you are on the fence about studying abroad, I hope that my experience will sway you.
This story is a small snapshot of my time, but it played a vital role in the identification of my future. Studying abroad breaks your world. I mean this in the best way possible. When potential students are considering studying abroad, they see the highlight reel: the trips to exotic places or the spectacular food. We all engage in impression management—presenting ourselves and our experiences in the most attractive manner. Studying abroad can change your life, and it probably will. But not in the ways that you are expecting.
My friend, Ismael Byers, who won the 2017 IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival, frames the study abroad experience well. His film, Solitude, explains that the lonely moments, when you are frustrated with a new language or missing your community, are when you grow. It is within the silence, when the noise of modernity finally becomes inaudible, that you can hear your heart. Once you get in sync with your heart, life becomes more authentic.
My reasoning for studying in Santiago, Chile was twofold: I wanted a Spanish program, and I sought a healthcare experience in another country. IES Abroad had such a program. I left hoping that I would be able to confirm my dream of becoming a Physician Assistant and gain an edge for my application for PA school.
As humans, we all have a habitus—an internal set of dispositions that allows us to process and understand our life experiences. My time in Chile changed and reconfigured my habitus. There are plenty of reasons for this: a new culture, a new set of friends, and a new family. The list can go on. The beauty of study abroad does not lie in the highlight reel that is posted to various forms of social media. It lies within the relationships and the time spent alone. Studying abroad puts your stocks of knowledge "on notice". The things that you have taken for granted your whole life—speaking a language, making friends—are suddenly not as natural. You go back to square one. The new experiences that you have intertwine themselves into your stocks of knowledge to create new recipes for action.
Studying abroad has the possibility to transform your world. However, it is the reconstructive arc that makes a semester or a year abroad worthwhile. The friendships foster quickly and the strangers that were just typifications become lifelong friends. Your own sense of culture and meaning meld into a kaleidoscope of new experiences which lead to fresh insights. The way in which you approach life drastically shifts. You begin to question your meaning, which leads to a healthy level of introspection.