Studying abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a college student. It’s an opportunity for self-discovery and exploration. Being thrown into a different culture is invigorating and terrifying all at the same time. It also provides an appreciation for other cultures people who haven’t been fortunate enough to study abroad experience. The world is a huge place. We learn a lot about ourselves in the four years we attend college. What better time to learn about another culture and foster greater growth in ourselves?
My personal study abroad story is an easy one. I wanted to go to Europe. Simple as that. Italy was my number one choice since I’m Italian and obsessed with the culture but France won in the end. Paris could not have been a better city to choose for myself. I dove into the language my second year in college which created a love-hate relationship. Did you know that speaking and writing French is practically two languages? It’s rough! With that being said, Paris was a city I knew I could manage. I would get a first-hand experience being thrown into the French, more importantly, Parisian culture and I would have a chance to learn the language in its home country but also still be able to find English speakers.
Choosing a destination can sometimes be dictated by your major. Other times, it’s determined by a dream of visiting a certain destination. Some decisions are made strategically, financially, opportunistically, you name it. There are a million reasons why anyone chooses a specific destination to study abroad. For Sarah of Levine-Moore Photography, “I wanted the program I studied at to be in language since I was also getting a minor in German. That’s what decided my location between the two German programs offered by my university.” According to Dannie of Stile.Foto.Cibo, “I studied in London due to my love of English culture as well as literature, theatre, and archives/libraries.” When making a decision, Dannie says it best. “Research the destinations that appeal to your interests.” Let that guide your way into making the right decision for you.
Timing is everything when it comes to study abroad. I studied in Paris over the summer going into my senior year of college. I had planned to go the summer before but the plans fell through and I was heartbroken. Looking back, I realize that I was meant to embark on this journey with a specific group of people at a very crucial point in my life. I spent the better part of my college career too worried about getting a job after graduation to enjoy being in college. Another student in my program, Steve, taught me inadvertently through his own period of self-discovery, that sometimes you need to forget everything else and live. My identity was so rooted in being from Chicago, being on a career path, becoming successful. I was probably the most obnoxious person to ever come out of the Windy City!
Before I flew to Paris, I didn’t even know what my definition of success was. While I’d love to say I found all the answers in Paris, it wouldn’t be true. Instead, it forced me to self-reflect and reexamine what was important to me, what my goals in life were and who I wanted to be as a person. I knew so little about myself. I was so used to people telling me who I was. “She’s a go-getter,” “She’s dependable, confident and hard-working,” “She’s meant for success.” People told me what my talents were. People told me what the best path in life was: college, graduation, job, family. Not once until I traveled to Paris did I ever ask myself what I wanted, what my talents are, what I thought my life’s path should look like. That's when I realized that Chicago might not be my forever home. That's when I began to realize that I didn't want the career I was heading towards. That’s when I realized I knew I loved to travel but never how much. It’s when I decided that I wanted to share my experiences discovering other cultures and destinations with whoever would listen. It’s when I decided my path in life needed to change.
In a very old blog post, I talked about the moment Paris and I fell in love. It sounds corny but it was actually a simple, underrated moment and one that I will never forget. It was a moment of deep understanding and discovery. I will be the first to admit I am one hell of a stubborn human being so it’s only appropriate it took me most of the trip to get to this point. My mind felt like it had been opened to this whole other part of the world. The part where the possibilities are endless and the past meets the present. Paris forced me out of my bubble which made me a much different but better person.
So why study abroad? I could just say why not. The reasons are endless. Dannie of Stile.Foto.Cibo says it beautifully, “Study abroad is so important and something any student who is able should do. On the most basic level, it expands your mind. It lets you see part of the world you might not otherwise see and exposes you to new cultures and ways of life.” If you ask me, the most important gift studying abroad gives you is the act of self-discovery. Learn about yourself. Learn about yourself while surrendering to a different culture. Learn about yourself away from all the people who claim to know you. Just take what it has to offer and learn.