Co-authored by Samantha Carp, writing intern at Avelist
I was indifferent to studying abroad. Sophomore year of college was going well; I loved my classes and friends and saw no reason to stir the pot. Upperclassmen promised that studying abroad would change my life, but I was not fully convinced. Nevertheless, my junior year of college I enrolled in a university in Madrid, Spain. The experience changed my life, but not in the ways I expected. Living overseas shattered my routine; it fixed what I did not even know was broken. Here are 4 ways living abroad has liberated me.
1. Reliance on technology. My Spanish phone does not include internet, so I can only plug in when connected to wifi. As a millennial, it isn't easy to transition from infinite data to a narrow access. But just as I perk up my ears when my vision is hindered, without Google to answer my questions, other senses, like observation and inquisition, come to the foreground. Instead of probing the web, I ask my teachers. When I need directions, I look up at street signs not down at my phone. Turns out, I absorb more when my eyes aren't glued to my screen.
2. Dependence on the library. I despised chatter, light, and smiling as I worked, so at home, if I wasn't hidden in the 6th floor stacks, I could not concentrate. This semester, without a library nearby, I was forced to find alternative locations to focus. My first days studying amongst the living were a challenge. I was cooped up in the darkest corner of a café, determined to fend off anyone who wanted to chat. But, I grew accustomed to the laughter and light. Now when I face a burdensome problem, an encouraging smile from the barista is all I need to get back on track. What started off as a method of survival transformed into a love of cafes and the ability to work anywhere.
3. Making friends at a new pace. Freshman year of college was a race to find friends. I worried if I didn't not immediately join a group, I would be doomed for the next four years. Relationships develop more naturally abroad. With wonderful friends waiting for me back in Atlanta, I feel no pressure to make as many friends as possible. If I discover someone isn't my cup of tea, no sweat; I have the freedom to develop quality over quantity.
4. Traveling with confidence. Before a family or school trip, my mom planned every detail up to how many pairs of underwear I should pack. While I loved these vacations, my biggest fear was whether my movies would download in time for departure. This semester, I am in charge of far more than my undergarment count. Every aspect of the trip--transportation, lodging, activities, and food is my responsibility and anxiety runs high. I visualize every possible scenario that could go wrong. But while I lose a peaceful pre-trip night of sleep, my uncertain adventure is well worth the price. Traveling on my own gives me a cultural awareness that I never understood when I blindly followed someone else's itinerary. From chatting with an Austrian seatmate on my way into Vienna to learning a bit of Italian in order to navigate Rome's train station, I am a traveler and the trip is my own.
Breaking out of my comfort zone is a lesson I will remember far beyond the homework and tests I studied for this semester abroad. Even if nothing seems broken, there is always room for improvement. I was content with my life last year, but I will return to the States an enriched being. I am not telling you to study abroad so you will learn to work in a café or survive without a phone, those were forces that chained me. Go abroad to free yourself.
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