It’s been a month since I’ve returned from my time abroad, and it’s truly sometimes difficult to remember how important my time was while away. But there are little things since I’ve returned where I’ve realized that I’m a different person. Not to be dramatic, but it’s true. Some people say that study abroad is just a semester for humanities students to party in a foreign country for 4 months. As a transfer pre-med (my credits are all over the place) who isn’t the biggest partier, I can assure you that my semester abroad was worth so much more.
Going abroad will teach you more than you’d like to know about yourself. I pushed myself past the limits I always unconsciously set for myself. This is literally a period of 4 months where your priority can be whatever you want it to be. For me, I made it myself. Instead of thinking “oh I can’t do that! That’s not for me,” I started thinking “Oh hey, yeah I’ll try it.” This kind of shift in thinking is mind-blowing, and it’s so simple, but sometimes you have to just be in a whole new place to get this kind of breakthrough.
I've always been more book-smart than street-smart. But going abroad, traveling alone, literally dropping myself in the middle of a random city by myself was one of the most challenging things I've ever made myself do. How to get places, how to save money, how to talk to strangers who don’t understand you; all these experiences were rife with mistakes, but now I know I can handle it, and it’s kind of cool. Plus, how else do you get all those funny stories?
Disappear for 4 months, come back a new, better person. How many times do you get a chance do that? Of course, you won’t be a new, better person completely. But it’s incredible to see how differently you might handle things. I dress differently, talk to people differently, and I’m so much more motivated to simply do work. I feel refreshed, which I thought I’d never feel.
I’ve always made school my number one priority. And with that comes with the stress that I knew how to handle and the many nights of turning down social events to study and read. But I didn’t travel hundreds of miles to focus on schoolwork. It was so much harder to change my focus than I thought, and I challenged myself to do something different, exciting each day. I tried an experiment on Instagram to post something every day, for 135 days (I'm so stingy about social media posts, so this was actually really hard for me). I found myself spending days in art museums. I got lost in the city on my bike (and got pulled over by the bike police for ‘jay-biking’). Pretend to be someone else. Do things you wouldn’t you usually do. Not to say there’s no consequences to your actions, but you don’t have to take everything so seriously.
I distinctly remember two times this happened. One, when I was on the top of the Arc de Triomphe on a Friday night, by myself. I was just looking at a view of the whole city. It all hit me at once, and I got this rush through my body. The second time was when I was on a train from Budapest to Vienna. It was my last train ride in Europe, my last solo trip, and I just thought “wow, I really did it.” A year ago, I would have never predicted that I would have done so much. Traveling is hard. Traveling alone (which I highly recommend at least trying once) is harder. Knowing that you can do it is one of the most gratifying feelings in the world.
Years from now when you look back on your college years, you’re not going to think “I’m so glad I comfortably finished my pre-med requirements and my minor in 4 years.” You want to think, “wow, I can’t believe I saw the Pope on Christmas Day” (highly recommended, by the way). There’s so much out there, and you won’t see it unless you just go.