When thinking about why I decided to study abroad in Spain, many reasons surfaced to my mind. If someone asked me, “Why Spain?,” I would say that I wanted to practice my language skills, learn more about my major (strategic communications), and have opportunities to travel around Europe and North Africa. I would say that I wanted to be immersed in a culture that was different from my own. The programs in Spain allowed me to stay with a host family, take classes only in Spanish and immerse myself in cultural activities. But why was I specifically interested in an intercultural experience halfway across the world? Why was traveling and learning about new cultures appealing to me? When did my fascination with studying abroad start to occur?
Why don’t we start from the beginning? Growing up, I had never traveled abroad and my immediate family has never left the country to this day. As a family of four, we didn’t travel often–usually just a yearly vacation on the East Coast. When I was 12, I began to take Spanish classes at my middle school. Because I enjoyed writing, grammar and reading, I really enjoyed the challenge of learning a new language with its own rules. I continued to further my Spanish skills in high school, where I learned more about the cultures of various Spanish-speaking countries. We watched foreign movies in classes, and at home, I was exposed to different media and movies showcasing life, history and culture abroad. Alongside my Spanish classes, a fascination with ancient civilizations and world history became apparent in my work in high school. I began wondering what life was like in other places, and how people around the world live different lives. While I’m hesitant to say that I could have romanticized life abroad, I think people in general can associate a new culture or lifestyle with positive changes. In the end, I discovered that studying abroad–although an experience with many positive aspects–involves many struggles, from anxiety to loneliness or fear. We realize that no culture and no place is perfect. But, ultimately, the full experience abroad allows us to hear the real stories from around the world, which is a main reason I decided to go abroad. I wanted to absorb different stories and lessons from people who I couldn’t have met otherwise.
Studying Abroad Helps Shape Our Identity
From experiencing the real stories, I wanted to explore my own curiosity of a new country and how it relates to my home culture. I think it’s important to note that experiencing foreign communities means starting a process of breaking away from previous cultural tendencies, routines and habits. To travel is to be in a state of motion, a movement that awakens our minds, moving constantly towards deeper understanding. Sometimes staying in our routines at home doesn’t push us to understand the world around us. Before studying abroad, I had a desire to break habits and see how my actions affect global systems and communities, even on a small level. We can sometimes become stuck in routines, often stuck with circumstances that hold us back from reaching our potential–whether that is academically, personally, professionally, spiritually or physically. To choose to study abroad was to make a choice to challenge myself to go further in discovering my identity and to surpass fear that was holding me back. I believed learning how to navigate life in a foreign country would help me grow to improve my Spanish, meet new people, take more risks, and be flexible with my schedule and my time. Ultimately, I wanted to challenge myself to grow into a person who focused on the things that truly matter.
Going Abroad Helps Us Embrace Uncertainty
Another factor that shaped my choice in going abroad was a leap toward uncertainty. There is so much uncertainty with studying abroad—from fear to anxiety. Many times we think that facts, plans and certainty help to make decisions easier and lead people in the right direction. However, the uncertainty of what would lie ahead in the four months in my time in Europe was a refreshing thought to me. I would picture the calendar year of 2014, and no specific plans would come to mind for the first four months of the year. All I could picture was being abroad in Spain. No faces. No names or particular places. Only a blank slate, ready to be filled with different adventures. This feeling is important in evaluating why I decided to go abroad. It almost contradicts reason, as we plan to go in the direction of the unknown, instead of a route more defined like taking a job in your hometown or taking an online class. But an interest in the uncertainty was a driving factor in my decision to go abroad, and I realized that the things we are most passionate about are the things we are unsure of. I was consciously aware of all the unknowns of studying abroad when making the decision, and I think they lead me to take the leap of faith and go somewhere new.
Studying Abroad Isn’t About Us
Lastly, I want to examine the specific urge to go global. Even though I was interested in other cultures, why did I have the urge to specifically travel to a new country and live in a new environment? While I have personal reasons like the ones I explained above, I think it runs deeper than that. Even though there are many individual effects of studying abroad, I think we also decide to study abroad to recognize others. Deciding to go abroad can result from the need to get to know our place among others, to understand our global neighbors. Going abroad is an act of service, as we place another culture next to our own, get to know the people around us, and represent our own country in a special way. I decided to go abroad not only to satisfy a desire and curiosity in my life, but also to humble myself before others and to realize that life is not only about us. There’s a whole other world out there, and we are not alone.
Have you made the leap to study abroad in college? Or are you planning a trip abroad soon? Let me know why you decided to take the leap!