I never did the study abroad thing when I was in college. The opportunity never presented itself, and I was more concerned with establishing a career as a journalist in America, hoping to land a key internship. One of my best friends from high school, Flo, went to Oxford, England to study her junior year, and I remember when she came home she seemed like a new person — new clothes, new experiences, new friends. She even kept her watch on London-time for months, swearing it was the time of her life and she wanted to remember it.
My sister, too, had an incredible study abroad experience in Siena, Italy. Josie had the ultimate overseas adventure: she fell in love. While this doesn’t always happen, it can — especially if you’re open and ready for it.
I was jealous of their journeys, and I started to regret that a study abroad experience was not part of my world. They both seemed so in love with life after it. I wanted that feeling.
So, when I was in graduate school for creative writing, many years later, and there was an opportunity to spend the summer studying in Cork, Ireland, I knew I would sign up (even though I was newly married). It was one of the best experiences of my life for many reasons, but here’s five reasons why I recommend studying abroad at some point in your life:
- You’ll meet new people. You will meet new people in your program, and perhaps people from the place you’re visiting. One of my favorite people in Cork was a man named Mr. Murphy and his dog, Ginger Murphy, an English golden and cocker spaniel mix. I met them while walking down the street; in a new place, you’re more open to random meetings like this. Even if you study with people you know, you will definitely become closer to these people — a special bond forms, being in a new place having a shared experience.
2. You’ll do things you normally wouldn’t do. This might be as simple as eating new food or speaking a different language or hiking a mountain — whatever it is, your study abroad experience will break you out of your routine and will definitely feel less like “school” or “class.” When I was in Cork, I swam a 2K race in the River Lee that runs through Cork. The water was freezing, about 60 degrees and I did not wear a wetsuit. (More on this soon.)
3. You’ll discover new places. This is a guarantee. Even if they are places you’ve been before, you will see them in a new light. I traveled to the Aran Islands for a second time on this trip, and I was even more marveled by the place after learning about the culture and reading The Aran Islands by J.M. Synge. Here, I am at Dun Aengus with the deep boom of the Atlantic 100 meters below. It’s where I want my ashes spread: It’s that breathtaking.
4.You’ll learn. You’ll learn about the place and the people and yourself. On my trip, I became obsessed with Synge’s work. He’s a playwright who is most well-known for his controversial The Playboy of the Western World. Most of the research I did for my Irish Lit class was about him. Let yourself obsess over something you’re studying; you will find the experience more rewarding.
5. You’ll feel at home. If you’re as lucky as Flo and me, you’ll feel so at home in this new place that part of you won’t want to come home. Try to take the experience in and enjoy every moment of it because it won’t last forever, even though the memories will last a lifetime.
If you’ve had a study abroad experience, please tell us about it in the comments.