“Does this university have a study abroad program?” This was my one question I made sure to ask on every college visit I went on in high school. Even as a 17 or 18-year-old high school student, I knew I had a grand desire to incorporate traveling in my college career. Fast-forward three years, and that dream was finally becoming a reality. I submitted my application to attend the National University of Ireland Galway, in Galway, Ireland, and it is to this day the best decision I’ve ever made.
Going abroad teaches people to appreciate life outside their own. There are so many diverse ways of life living outside your little neighborhood and even outside the United States. It is so interesting and rewarding to meet people from around the world and hear their story. One night, after my two friends and I came back from our trip to Scotland, starvation was in full swing and food was all we could think about. We headed to our favorite place to get fish and chips, the famous McDonough’s. Because it is a very small restaurant, tables are often shared between customers, and we had the privilege of sharing out table with an Irish mother and daughter. Within minutes, our conversation was thriving, leaving no topic unspoken. As three American girls, we shared our stories, and the mother and daughter shared theirs. Questions and laughs were exchanged, and after two hours, we begrudgingly parted ways. Times like these are what make you stop and think about all of the different walks of life. Studying abroad allows you to step outside your comfort zone. Even though I felt completely at home within a day of being in Ireland, I was still in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people. I was forced to make the most of what was around me and leave the comfort of my American, college life.
Studying abroad comes with many positives, yet like most things, there are a few obstacles to face. Yes, you may feel homesick at times, and knowing that you are an ocean away from home can be a terrifying thought. And yes, you may not know what kind of butter to buy at the grocery store because you don’t recognize any of the brands so you just take a lucky guess. And yes, you might feel exhausted for three days because your weekend started off with a 6AM flight, but you needed to catch a bus to Dublin at 1:45AM. But the homesickness becomes less frequent, and you eventually figure out what to buy at the grocery store, and the site of La Sagrada Familia completely outweighs exhaustion.
There are so many benefits in taking the time in college to travel. Just by the act of doing so tells a lot about the person who chooses to move their life to a different country for four months. It shows that you are extremely adaptable, such that you can adjust and succeed in another culture with different customs and languages. Act like local, but know that may not always be possible. Even though the culture of Spain is the complete opposite of four college aged girls reenacting scenes from “The Cheetah Girls”, hoping to strike the right pose, we took those moments to stand out as tourists for a hilarious picture. Studying abroad improves a “go with the flow” attitude. Traveling is not perfect all of the time, and many obstacles may arise. However, it is necessary to learn to just take whatever comes your way with a smile. That being said, one may find walking close to 40 miles within two days in London on blistering feet to be an impossible time to smile, but making your way to the “Parent Trap” house for a five minute photo shoot is in fact worth it. Delayed flights or endless walking will turn into great memories and stories.
College is the perfect time to travel and experience so many new cultures. What other time in your life will you have the opportunity to move to another country and go to a different country every weekend? There is something so exhilarating about walking through the streets of a different country, studying at a foreign university, and experiencing new cultures through doing and seeing. It may sound cliché, but I will never forget the foundation of so many friendships I built, especially with other SJU students. Together, we encouraged each other to take risks, explored foreign places, stayed up late into the night, and experienced adventures that we continue to relieve today. I encourage anyone who even has a tiny thought about studying abroad to pursue it; it will change your life.