I’ve always believed that you have to be partially insane to go abroad. After all, if you’re like most Eagles, you’ve spent your first two years at Boston College building a life that you love – complete with friends, clubs, classes, and traditions. So when the Office of International Programs sends you a friendly email inviting you to abandon all of that for a country halfway across the globe, it’s a reasonable response to shake your head, put your iPhone back in your pocket, and head to Hillside. “This BC life?” you say to yourself over your perfectly toasted frips and magical herb and cream cheese dipping sauce, “I wouldn’t give it up for the world.”
But see, that’s exactly what I gave it up for.
Two months ago, I moved 3,270 miles across the ocean to London, England. Here are a few things I’ve learned since the day I left Boston:
1. You can handle a lot more than you think you can.
It’s hard to know how much you can handle until you find yourself in a non-English speaking city with no cell phone, no housing, and no game plan (I’m looking at you, Venice). Whether you’re in South Africa shark-cage diving, Australia bungee jumping, or Europe facing down Ryan Air and hostel life, abroad consistently forces you out of your comfort zone.
One of the common concerns before going abroad is: “Can I do it?” Can I move that far way? Can I adjust to a completely different culture? Can I keep myself safe? Can I leave BC behind? Can I travel knowing that inevitably things will go wrong and I may end up in a different part of the country than originally intended? I’m going to borrow a page from my pal Dr. Seuss here. The good doctor once said, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” The “Can I’s” are never ending, and get more and more complicated the closer you get to leaving. But the answer is simple: when you have to, you can.
2. Travel. And when you think you can’t travel anymore, get on the next plane.
Real talk here. My closest friends at BC live scattered across the United States. Despite invites and plans, how many of those states have I actually made it to? Texas? California? Florida? 90% OF THE MIDWEST? Nope.
It wasn’t until I started jumping countries on the weekends (surprisingly easy and affordable as long as you read the fine print and don’t mind the 48% survival rate on Ryanair/Easy Jet flights) that I realized just how little I’ve taken advantage of my own country. Sure, I’ve traveled with my family growing up. But what about this new type of adventure? Road trips, crappy hotels, and experiencing life the way that the people who actually live there experience it. The BC bubble is a beautiful place, and trust me, you miss it when you’re gone, but the opportunity to see cultures vastly different than my own has taught me more about the world than any class I’ve ever taken. The places, the food, the languages and most importantly the people, have shown me that the world is all at once huge and not so far apart.
3. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I’ll be the first to admit that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what’s coming next. That paper, that event, that trip. In fact, I have found it’s remarkably easy to spend so much time thinking about what’s coming next that you miss what’s happening now.
This last bullet point is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned abroad. To be short: you don’t have time. You don’t have time to worry about next month or next week or even tomorrow because if you do you’re going to miss today. And over here, that doesn’t just mean a class or a party – that means whole countries. It can be incredibly difficult to stop thinking about the next great adventure or when your final is due or even how far you are from Boston. But when you study abroad, there are too many experiences to focus on anything other than right now. So stop. Take it in. And worry about “later” when “later” is now.
So I left BC, moved across the world and learned these lessons. But why? Why put everything on the line to start all over again?
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Sami and I were wandering the streets of Rome. It was (extremely) early, we were wiped and I was already thinking about the next train we had to catch that afternoon. We made it to the Colosseum, where we met a nice young American couple. Over a mutually touristy photo-op, we struck up a conversation with them about their trip to Italy and our adventures so far. It wasn’t long until we had to go – Sami and I had a Segway tour to catch – and we left them standing in the vast open arena.
“Enjoy your trip!” we told them, as we parted ways. The man smiled, looked back at us and without hesitation responded, “Enjoy the world.”