When I started applying to colleges, there was one thing that I wanted out of my four years more than anything: to study abroad. Ever since I was a little girl I’d dreamed about Italian piazzas, French cafes, and Irish castles. Blame it on “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” or the Madeline books, I was ready for a taste of the unfamiliar. That’s why as a senior in high school, I knew that Dickinson College was the right choice for me. The school’s emphasis on global education is one of its best attributes and I know I’m not alone when I say this was a huge perk to attending Dickinson.
Most people here spend a semester abroad, but I wanted to travel and cherish an international experience for as long as I possibly could, so I decided to study abroad for a full year. Sophomore year flew by with frequent, excited and anxious trips to the global studies office and before I knew it, I was about to board a plane to Italy. I had no idea what was in store for me and my emotions ranged from “I can’t wait for the pizza and gelato!” to “what the heck did I just do?!”
I won’t lie, that first semester in Rome was hard. Not because of Italy or being far away from home, but because I chose a very rigorous program. Yet, despite the panic attacks, I wouldn’t trade it in for the world and didn’t hesitate, after a short holiday break, to hop back on a plane and head to another European country: Ireland.
There is nothing quite like study abroad. Sure, you can travel when you graduate and have a career or go on family vacation, but it’s not the same. When you’re an international student, you really get to know a place. When you travel, you learn how to be independent, to be a “big girl.” Though travel anxiety and homesickness may happen, the opportunity to study abroad is a privilege that will leave you with unforgettable memories. Looking back on my experience, it feels like it was a dream. Now that I’ve been back at Dickinson for a month, I can’t believe that on this same day a year ago I was heading to the Colosseum.
During my year in Europe, I traveled to many countries and ate amazing food, met fantastic people from all over and visited unforgettable places. I’ll always remember strolling along the Via del Corso and stumbling upon the newly refurbished Trevi Fountain in Rome, eating the best quiche of my life in Paris and seeing three of the most spectacular palaces in Vienna. A year ago I barely made my own dentist’s appointments; now I’ve travelled all across Europe with friends and even by myself.
When I talk to younger students about my experience in Europe, sometimes they tell me they’re unsure about whether or not they want to study abroad. Sure, everyone has the freedom to make their own decisions and maybe I can’t know how a person will adapt to that kind of situation, but I always, without fail, say “go.” Maybe you’ll be homesick, maybe you’re afraid to fly, maybe you don’t like change; whatever the reason is, don’t let “maybes” hold you back from what could be an incredible experience. I’m not saying it will always be easy, because it won’t be. What I am saying is, when all is said and done, experiencing life in a foreign place was the best decision I have ever made in college; chances are, it will probably be yours too.
All images courtesy of the author