Three thousand, six hundred feet in the air, red-faced and panting, I finally figured it out. It only took me four months across the sea, jumping from plane to train, climbing up rocks and wiping sweat from my brow to figure it out: I had to leave to find myself.
This is not some cheesy, beginning of a motivational poster I'm offering. No, this is the mere story of deciding to leave the comfort and ease of Florida, of America even, to dive my hands deep in culture, language barriers and more or less, some fun.
The option to study abroad in college has probably crossed your mind once or twice. The reasons to go seem obvious enough; there's traveling, an escape from the university life that you will have grown accustomed to and the thrill of seeing more of the world, at the relatively easy cost.
But once you decide you should go, you might wonder what it would take to make you stay. I was standing at Montserrat in Spain, one of the places I'd been able to visit during my break at the University of Exeter in England, where I chose to study. Drinking from my water bottle, I glanced down to look at the view, and found I was actually in a cloud. I laughed a little. I Climbed 3,600 feet and ended up in a cloud, with nothing but eerie gray surrounding the shaky failing. It was sort of like my experience studying abroad. Come 3,000 miles across the ocean, only to discover you don't really know what you want to do, or who you are really.
I am a Bull, a University of South Florida student and proud, but up here that doesn't matter. I am merely a traveler to those I meet. And it is all I wish to be, for now anyway.
So what makes the study abroad experience worth it? Besides cool Instagram posts or awesome profile pictures on Facebook, what if you find yourself on top of a mountain in Spain, realizing the world is a lot bigger than you think? Is that what study abroad is about? Maybe. But there are little things that make leaving the comfort of Florida, or wherever in the states you choose to study, worth it… on a smaller scale.
A family of your own
If we're being honest, I didn't expect to make friends studying abroad. That sounds cynical and dramatic, but it's true. I figured I would travel alone, go to class, come back to my flat, plan for traveling some more and go to class once more. But what you forget is that you're living with people who are all experiencing the same weird feelings as yourself. You miss home, but you don't. You keep mixing currencies in your wallet. You can't figure out the plugs. And suddenly, the group of strangers you've been sent with, or just meet, become the people who are laughing with you while you attempt to live a normal life among strange people and stranger lands.
It makes me laugh now, but I figured going to university would be my big moment, the time where I finally became an adult or what have you. Well, as usual, I was wrong. There is something very powerful about getting yourself on a plane, saying goodbye to family and friends, and setting out for the unknown like you're out of a storybook just onward to your next adventure. There is power in being alone, where you learn it is okay to cry, it is okay to get lost, it is okay to miss home. That's what being an adult is.
My moment on Montserrat was not an isolated event. Every student I've met on my journey so far has spoken of something similar. Maybe that student was in a lecture hall, and the words of the professor struck a chord. Or maybe the student was FaceTiming a friend, when it hit him or her: I know what I want to do. Or, rather in my experience, I don't know what I want to do. And it's okay. It's really okay.
Maybe study abroad was something you never considered. Maybe the whirlwind of high school, and I don't blame you, has left college something in the distance, something you need not worry about for now. But, if you have felt the longing, the desire to get away, to get outside your comfort zone, then perhaps you can start now.
Research your universities. I would be a liar if I said I had picked USF for another reason: I knew I wanted to study abroad, and their programs worked for me. But, investigate what the schools offer, to get an idea of where you want to go. England was my choice, for its ease of language and location, but think about what works best for you. Think about the time you can manage as well: Just a semester, or can you fester up the courage for a year?
Whatever you decide to do, just know that an ocean away, the world awaits to be explored. College is about readying yourself for your future, to learn, to grow. Why not do that in the company of the Eiffel Tower, or in among the shores of Italy, or even the rocky cliffs of Scotland?
Three thousand, six hundred feet in the air, red-faced and panting, I finally figured it out. Maybe you will, too.
Former tb-two* editor Katie Lamont is a junior at USF studying public relations. She is currently attending the University of Exeter in England.