August is rolling on through, which means it’s back to school time soon. With that in mind, I want to reach out to any university students who read my blog. Now, I try not to make big sweeping statements, in general. So I’m going to ignore my own past record and make one now: studying abroad can change your life. I know that colleges try to sell you on the experience with claims like that, but I found it to be oh-so-true. If you have the opportunity to study abroad, take it.
Many moons ago, when I was in college, I never planned on studying abroad. I was on practically full-financial aid and I didn’t think I’d be able to afford to. Nor did I think it was important to my education. Freshman year went past. Sophomore year. And then in my junior year, my sorority big (proud Gamma Phi!) went abroad to Sydney her senior year and it revolutionised her life. It planted the seed of doubt in my mind that maybe I had studying abroad pegged all wrong. Maybe it wasn’t just an excuse to go to Octoberfest. So my second semester, I hastily cobbled together an application to study abroad fall my senior year.
I was very fortunate and my university applied my financial aid to my study abroad costs so I had to pay very little out of pocket. With that in mind, I set my sights on a semester in London….
How Studying Abroad Changed My Life.
#1. I fell in love with another culture. I’d always been an anglophile, but it was nothing like getting to experience England in person. I loved it so much that I knew that this was where I was meant to be. I love America, and I loved going to school in Atlanta, but I was meant to live in England.
As a spoiler alert for those of you who don’t read my blog, I’m an American expat in London. I succeeded in being able to move to England after graduation and have been here ever since. I’m near the 6 year mark which is absolutely insane to me.
#2. It changed some of my political opinions. I count myself as a fairly political person, and I think it’s really easy to get stuck in one mindset (hello 2016 election!). But when you spend an extended time abroad, you break out of some of the political ruts that you get stuck in. I mentioned above, I love America, but you have a completely different political perspective when you are on the outside looking in on your country than when you are in the eye of the storm. In full disclosure, I am fairly liberal and I found my stances softening in some manners, and becoming more liberal in others.
Being abroad helped me define my own views rather than just accepting the norm that I grew up with.
#3 I met my special person when I was a study abroad student. I’ve always been a relationship girl, but I went abroad single and planned on staying that way. Until I met a wonderful Yorkshireman at school in the computer room. It was an instantaneous connection. We’ve been together ever since; including some fairly dreadful and trying international long-distance relationship periods of time. Sam’s now my husband and if I hadn’t studied abroad, we wouldn’t be together now.
It stresses my heart to think that if I’d never come abroad, we’d never have met. Despite the fact that applying for various visas has aged me prematurely, it’s been worth every cent.
#4 I learned to be self-reliant and independent. I’ve always been fairly independent, but there’s nothing to push you out of the nest more than being abroad on your own. Only one other person from my college was studying abroad at the same place that I was, and we hadn’t known each other at all. From meeting all new people, to living on your own in a foreign country, to managing your finances in a currency you don’t quite understand – it all forces you to become your own person. Also I’d never lived somewhere so large and metropolitan as London, so coming to grips with a huge city was a massive hurdle in and of itself.
#5. I also learned to be more spontaneous. I’ve a very type-A person, and cannot function without lists and plans. Being abroad helped me learn to loosen up a little bit and go with the flow more. A decision to travel to Paris the next day became an exciting adventure and not something to stress over not having planned for.
The life experience being abroad gave me was invaluable. I felt more like an adult when I was commuting around London on my own than I ever did in any previous three years of college. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of studying abroad, but if it’s an opportunity that you can seize, take it!
*A version of this post first appeared on Kate the (Almost) Great as a guest post I’d written for her.*