People will try to convince you that studying abroad is a great opportunity and that everyone who can study abroad should do their best to do so. While they may give many good reasons to study abroad, everyone’s individual study abroad experiences will be unique. So for me, why was studying abroad a worthwhile experience?
To say that studying abroad was a stretching experience may seem cliché or generic, but for me that truly was its greatest value. I am a creature of habit. I shop at the same store every time I need food, walk the same way to class every day, order the same drink at the coffee shop I always go to to study. I like things to function in predictable ways so I know what to expect. I also like to always have a plan. I like to know where I need to be, what I’ll be doing, for how long, and for what reason. I would not typically characterize myself as extremely outgoing or adventurous. But fortunately for my personal growth, my study abroad experience was usually quite unpredictable and very unplanned.
For instance, several friends and I took a trip one weekend from our dorms in Lugano, Switzerland, down to Venice, Italy, with a stop in Milan along the way. The entire trip was a series of the unexpected and the unpredicted. When we first stopped in Milan, we visited the Galleria and the Cathedral Duomo. As we split into groups to explore, I quickly got separated from my group and had no way to reach them as I did not purchase an international phone plan. It was sheer luck that I happened to run into one of our groups as I wandered around looking for free Wi-Fi. Then, as we headed back to our Airbnb, both members of our group who kept the keys got separated from the group. Then their phones both died. Our group had to wait for hours while they wandered the city eventually finding the correct subway stop and letting us all in. The train heading to Venice was packed so we were standing for most of the ride. Our time in Venice was largely without mishap until the last day when I again got separated from our group and had to guess at which ferries to take in order to reach the train station in time for our departing train. One of the trains on the return trip filled up so we were planning on finding a place to stay in a small Italian country town until we found another train to take. Then finally, we nearly missed our bus back to Switzerland.
At the time, most of the experiences were stressful. Who wants to be lost in a foreign country with no cell service, no way to communicate with the people around, and no idea where you need to go? Why do I say that these experiences were a large reason why my study abroad trip was worthwhile? They forced me out of my comfort zone. They forced me to think in the moment rather then follow a predetermined plan. They made me react to the unpredictable. This taught me two things. It taught me better how to make a plan on the fly and how to react to the unpredictable. More importantly, it taught me that I can function out of my comfort zone. If I could work on the fly in a foreign country, where I didn’t fully understand the language, culture, or city I was in, then I could be very comfortable in the unpredictable at home where I knew the language, culture, and city. Studying abroad was something like me jumping off the deep end and realizing I could swim and then returning to the shallows a confident swimmer.
This may paint a negative picture of studying abroad, and to be fair I am focusing on the worst of the trip. There were many more good experiences than negative ones. My point is that even the negative experiences were incredibly useful to me and contributed to my personal growth. And if even the negative experiences made my trip worthwhile, if the worst parts of the experience were still valuable, then the sum of all the good and bad experiences must be extremely valuable. My study abroad experience was worthwhile in all its aspects, good and bad.
-Coleman Moss, Faculty-led in Italy/Switzerland, Summer 2019