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Don't Be Scared, This Will Change Your Life

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By Laura Caroline Gingrich of University of Washington

Seven important reasons why traveling will forever influence your perspective.

I always knew I would study abroad during my college career. I applied and was accepted to my program of choice, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to see Europe again. However, in the months leading up to departure, I was struck with a strange anxiety about leaving home and being in a completely new environment. I felt extremely conflicted for feeling this way.

Everyone told me that studying abroad would change my life, but I wasn't sure if I was ready for that big of a change. And, what exactly did it mean to say that traveling would change your life? I couldn't possibly understand such a statement until I experienced it first-hand, and traveling abroad undoubtedly changed my life. Looking back, I wish I could have given myself this advice: don't be scared.


1. Traveling shapes you into a more informed and caring citizen of our world.

Visiting foreign countries and observing their customs can help you compare the differences and complexities between other cultures you've experienced. Learning about a country's history is key to understanding their place in the world. Every travel destination has so much to offer, historically and culturally - take advantage and expose yourself to it.

2. Living in another place causes you to realize that your home country's methods of doing things are not always the most superior.

I love so many things about where I grew up and where I attend college. But when you live in another city, state, or even another country, you will notice that certain things seem like much better alternatives than what you are used to. For example, major cities all over Europe have extensive metro systems. In response to climate change, Italy has implemented a strict garbage and recycling code requiring the separation of garbage, compost, paper, plastic, and glass. When you see these differences, you will often wish your home country shared these ideas.

3. Debatably cliché, but very true: going abroad forces you out of your comfort zone.

Traveling can be one of the most unnerving but rewarding experiences of one's entire life. I remember my first day in Italy, when I could speak absolutely zero Italian and had no idea how to navigate around, and I felt completely and utterly lost. Hearing constant chatter of languages you don't understand can be disorienting. It can be extremely easy to withdraw and stay reserved, but to leave the small space of your comfortability is freeing. Engage with the locals, try to meet people, and explore as much as you can. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to become a "yes" person - take chances and try things just because, why not? More times than not, you won't regret the chances you take.

4. Studying abroad makes your world so much bigger, and at the same time, is an extremely humbling experience.

You can study a map all you want, but one cannot possibly grasp how massive our planet is until you go across the world and realize there are so many entirely different societies and ways of life among us. Nothing is more humbling and eye-opening than being a vulnerable tourist in a country where you don't speak the language or understand the culture.


5. When you leave your home base, you begin to value the small things that make it "home."

Anyone who travels a lot knows that despite all the glossy pictures on social media, traveling is not glamourous. It can be draining, and not everything that happens while abroad will be positive. I know I certainly missed my family & friends, local foods, having a full wardrobe, and sleeping in my own bed. However, being away from home eventually helps you appreciate where you live and all of the people and memories that come with it. You will even find similarities in the places you visit with where you are originally from. While in Europe, I was always comforted by a heavy rain shower because it reminded me of beautiful Seattle.


6. Going abroad teaches you that, just like in everyday life, things can and probably will take an unexpected turn - and that's just the way it goes.

Every lesson you learn while traveling will benefit you in everyday life once you return home. Whether it's missing a flight, hitting a dangerously low number in your bank account, or simply just ordering the wrong thing by accident in a restaurant, you learn to make do and find the next step in every situation. After your trip, you will notice the huge difference in your ability to problem solve and take on sticky situations. Accept it, improvise, and keep on going on.


7. Traveling will grow a newfound confidence and a sense of empowerment within yourself.

Traveling is an amazing route to finding yourself. Looking back, I can see why I felt so nervous before my trip. It can be scary being thrown into a seemingly intimidating environment and being subjected to the confusion of culture shock. But when you reflect back on the experiences you've had and the stories you want to share, you will see that your narration is much more cultured, much more confident, and much more empowered than you ever were before. And that my friends, is truly priceless.


So yes, I would say traveling changes your life. You will never be the same - but don't be scared, it is the most rewarding and positive transformation possible. When will you next let travel change your life?