By Kelsey Dennison, Princeton University
If you had asked me three years ago whether I would have expected to find myself camping in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, producing a wildlife documentary in Kenya, riding a sleeper train across China, or ice-skating in Stockholm on Thanksgiving during my time in college, I never would have believed you. Since starting college, I have been to 4 different continents, used 9 different currencies, and am now studying abroad, "formally," for the third time.
My dream to study abroad has long been motivated by the central role multiculturalism plays in my identity. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, a melting pot for immigrants and cultural backgrounds from around the world, the opportunity to experience a wide variety of cultures is a privilege that I value and have continued to seek out throughout my life. I have always enjoyed experiencing new cultures, trying new foods, and traveling to new places.
Even when it came to choosing a university, I pursued the chance to live between countries, becoming an international student in the United States. I was one of the few students from my high school to leave the country to study, and was the first student from my high school to ever attend Princeton. Knowing barely a single person at the renowned university, I packed up my life into a few suitcases, ready to start again from scratch.
Although the process of packing, moving, unpacking, starting new bank accounts and phone plans, filing taxes in multiple countries, and traversing the never-ending visa problems has been extremely frustrating at times, it has been completely worth the personal growth that has resulted. Granted, moving to the United States was not particularly foreign as a Canadian.
Relishing the opportunity for another challenge, I hopped on a plane to Shanghai at the beginning of the semester to study abroad, knowing barely three words of Chinese. I chose to study in China because every day is a challenge. As a beginner language learner, even basic tasks that I had previously taken for granted, such as ordering food or going shopping, have often been a challenge. Every day I am confused or surprised by something I experience. While it is sometimes exhausting, I know that I am growing and learning far more quickly than I would be on the home campus I have begun to feel complacent in.
Becoming detached from comforts and routines has helped me become a more adaptable, and ironically, grounded individual. When you no longer have the safety of familiar surroundings, your regular social circle, and your accustomed creature comforts, what you have left to rely on boils down to the essence of your character. If you can learn to do that, your character can only become stronger as a result.
Growing up I had always been rather shy - studying internationally has pushed me out of my shell, and has allowed me to become a more confident, assertive individual who seeks out challenges to overcome. Studying and living abroad has made me more resilient to unexpected challenges, and more adaptable to change. It has become so easy for me to pack up and move that my friends have even described me as a nomad.
Experiencing new parts of the world has challenged my preconceived notions, broadened my worldview, and helped me to understand and connect with a wider diversity of people. Living abroad in a place entirely new has emphasized even more so the importance of connecting with other people.
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, life will throw challenges and curve balls your way. Continuing to travel and live abroad has built up my resilience to life's twists and turns, and trained me to be adaptable in unexpected circumstances. I now relish the opportunity to feel completely overwhelmed and challenged in every way, because I know these are the times I learn the most.
I want my life to be full, and that means doing things that are hard. There are two ways to live: spending your life avoiding challenge and hardship at the expense of experiencing only a fraction of what life could be, or diving headfirst into life, embracing challenge with everything you have, and testing and pushing the walls of possibility. If I were to pick the first way to live, something tells me I would regret it for the rest of my life.
I keep moving in a conscious effort to force myself out of my comfort zone. It's easy to stay where you are, where you have everything figured out. It's uncomfortable to feel like a beginner again. But if you stay where things are easy, you'll never be able to grow. I choose to be a global student because it is challenging. If university is a time to learn, what better way to learn than by experiencing the world?
Don't choose the easy route. Life is too short to stay put.