Coming from the primary household of a single mother, I can honestly admit that I have some attachment issues with my childhood home and the support that surrounds it. I grew up as an anxious, introverted kid, with my suburban Chicago home being the one and only safe space I’d ever known. After spending years working with friends, family, doctors, and counselors to create a system in which I can feel emotionally assisted back home, I neglected to realize that moving states away to college after freshly turning 18 would mean completely rebuilding these support systems once again.
Before I even knew where I was attending college, the words “study abroad” were nesting in my brain, forcing me to ponder potential locations that I would visit if I was given the opportunity. At the time, I was confident that I wanted to study abroad because it felt like the “right” thing to do… after all, many of the stories you hear from university students are in favor of studying abroad in order to receive one-of-a-kind “worldly insight” and to “experience culture” outside of the United States. Some people thrive off of their newly found independence and have no issues feeling comfortable socializing with strangers and recording their new experiences, while some people like myself thrive off of consistency and stability. The thought of leaving the country to adjust to a completely different lifestyle in a completely different location while attempting to build a solid support system for the third time amidst a pandemic makes me feel sick.
I had a hard enough time adjusting to life at CU for the first month after I arrived. I would wake up most mornings with dread about getting through the day and dealt with constant stomachaches. It was hard for me to move across the country by myself during a pandemic with no form of familiarity to aid me. I felt my emotional and mental isolation manifest as physical illness, and while being alone did help me feel more satisfied with my independence momentarily, I also endured a lot of what felt like unbearable discomfort that I would rather not go through again if I am not yet prepared.
I am not against studying abroad by any means if you are comfortable with it, and I can acknowledge and respect that studying abroad on your own shows a lot of personal agency and resilience. I am, however, against the educationally institutionalized pressure that introverted and sometimes extroverted students are faced with when it comes to studying in a different country during their undergraduate education. I think it is overwhelming as a young adult to be expected to travel across the world alone after moving out for the first time amongst a variety of other high-intensity stressors. As a big believer that everyone grows at their own time, I am personally not afraid to say that I do not think I am ready to study abroad right now, and that is equally as okay if you think you are ready to study abroad right now. I am equally as valid of a student as those who do choose to study abroad and have found a lot of pride in identifying and respecting my limits and boundaries to determine what choices will be best for me and my mental health in the long run.
This is not to say that I am planning on completely eliminating the experience of collecting worldly insight from my education. I believe that there are other courses of action for me to take to learn about and appreciate cultural differences, such as postponing a study abroad program until graduate school or even planning to travel on my own time with individuals in my support system when I feel confident enough. I personally think that traveling can provide close to similar if not the same wordy opportunities that studying abroad would without the sense of dramatic urgency and ill-preparedness that university so often employs.
From all the stories I’ve heard, studying abroad sounds like such a life-changing experience that truly does shape your insight into how you view the world. If you are unsure about if you want to study abroad, or if nobody has told you recently, remember there is no reason to rush such a crucial learning experience, especially if you feel like there would be other distractions that would inhibit you from getting the most out of your trip. It is incredibly strong to respect your well-being enough to heal yourself before stepping out into uncertainty.