As a woman with several study abroad, alternative spring break, and traditional travel experiences behind me, I couldn’t agree with Olga Mecking more. The title itself drew me in because, personally, I can’t think of a better way to learn about yourself. I made the mistake of thinking “finding yourself” as synonymous with “learning about yourself.” I could not have been more wrong. As Mecking makes clear in her blogpost, she is talking about the impulse to shut oneself off from the world in an attempt to answer the big questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Etc.
The thing is that by truly immersing yourself in another culture, it forces you to question everything you know about your own. You naturally begin to question your assumptions and beliefs. Also, whether study abroad or another form of travel, a change in scenery and a different culture make it easy to find yourself in situations that allow you to discover new interests, talents, etc. Sometimes, you find yourself doing things you never dreamed you would do.
Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to my own experiences abroad. Would I do it all over again, knowing what I know now? You bet. If I were a traditional college student today, would I study abroad? Probably, although the circumstances are much different today than when I studied abroad 2000-2004. I simply think I would ask more questions and have far more concern regarding my personal safety. That is all probably due to my age and experience. Of course there are things I did at 20 that I would never consider doing today. Oh, by the way, just a little tip. If you are planning on studying abroad in the future, do not watch the movie Hostel. Just don’t do it.
I’ve also thought about how different study abroad would be today compared to my experiences through Michigan State. First, it would be so much easier to pack when travelling city to city. When I traveled all over Spain during my semester in Caceres, I always had to pack my journal, books, and portable CD player/CDs. Today, a smartphone could easily take the place of the music and books. Also, a small laptop or netbook could take the place of the journal. Technology is just so much better. Back in the early 2000s, people were just beginning to blog. I didn’t have a blog until 2005. Blogging would make it much easier to capture experiences, rather than just photos and journals, especially with the help of a smartphone. I can only imagine what I would and could have created studying abroad with today’s technology. Sadly, I remember getting actual film developed during my times in Spain and Ecuador. Blogging allows for an immediacy that was not available to me at the time.
What advice would I give to an incoming class of college freshman? Study abroad! You will not regret it. Ten years from now, you will regret it if you didn’t go. If you are concerned about the cost, there are scholarships; there are ways to make it comparable to a semester on campus. Also, be careful: it is addictive. During my time at MSU, I participated in five separate study abroad programs and alternative spring break – in Merida and Puebla Mexico – three times. I spent a semester in Quito, Ecuador and a semester in Caceres, Spain. I also spent a summer in London and completed two separate summer study abroad programs in Merida and Monterrey, Mexico. When I finally came back to campus to finish my undergraduate degrees, I landed one of the best jobs I’ve ever held: peer advisor in the office of study abroad. As a student, I worked part-time helping other students plan their own study abroad adventures. I consider all of it the best part of my education. My education would not be the same without all of those experiences; I would not be the same without all of those experiences.