Over the last few weeks, I have noticed my University email filling up with taunting invites to register for Study Abroad 2022. I was immediately overcome with a sense of excitement (I’m an explorer that loves to travel). However, this excitement was quickly followed by a great foreboding. What about Covid? Is the world really going to reopen and allow us all to move forward? Are things going to return to normal? One can only hope, and perhaps even pray if you’re a person of faith. It honestly feels like there is no end in sight. And whatever end there may be, it still seems as if how we travel may be forever changed by this pandemic. Nevertheless, it looks like the Study Abroad programs are taking a leap of faith as we move into the New Year, and I believe we all should bravely follow their lead.
Have You Ever Considered Studying Abroad?
Studying abroad is both terrifying and rewarding. The potential for growth far outweighs any fears you may have about taking such a leap. In 2019, I reluctantly stepped out of my comfort zone and applied to the foreign language program at Estudio Sampere in Salamanca, Spain. I never imagined when applying that this experience would change my life the way that it has. I had a million and one reasons why I should not Study Abroad. In reality, these reasons were irrational excuses. My Google search history looked something like this:
Missing women in insert country name.
Horror stories from travelers around the world.
Human Trafficking Statistics in insert country name.
How many solo women travelers are abducted each year?
How to avoid being pic-pocketed or scammed in a foreign country.
Crime statistics in insert country name.
Is insert country name safe?
In my mind, I created a hostile territory that was full of dangers at every turn.
I can only imagine how gigantic my fears would have been if Covid had already ravaged our world.
I just had a mini panic attack just considering everything I would have missed if I would have allowed fear to hold me back. The fact is when I arrived in Madrid and made my way over to Salamanca, my life changed. I fell utterly and unequivocally in love with Spain.
Nothing was as I imagined it. Spaniards have a unique way of doing life; they are incredibly friendly, gregarious, and optimistic.
On any given day, the city buzzed with the distant sound of foreign chatter. The weather was always perfect, comforting energy filled the air, and the inviting smells unique to Spain alone enveloped me.
In Plaza Mayor (the center of Salamanca), you would often see locals dancing and singing. People would gather in the Plaza to enjoy their Vino Tinto, Vino Blanco, or Cerveza while music played in the distance. And the best part, during the summer, the sun would rise before 7:00 a.m. and would not set until 10:00 p.m. I felt like I always had so much time to get things done. It wasn’t uncommon for the streets to still be full of people until around 2:00 a.m.
And the Spanish architecture is breathtaking.
Home is Where the Heart Is
When you decide to study abroad or travel the world in general, you never know what you will discover. But I can assure you that all the mysteries waiting to be experienced are worth it.
During my two months in Europe in 2019, I also visited France and Portugal. I would return a year later for a personal trip, allowing me to revisit my love (Spain), but I also included England, The Netherlands, and a second trip to Portugal. Out of all my travels, no other place has imprinted on my soul as Spain has; it is indeed the love of my life. I never imagined I could love another place as much as I loved America. But taking a leap of faith and setting out solo to explore the world allowed me to find two things:
1. A deeper understanding of Myself
2. And my true love – Spain
Exploring the world is a distinct adventure experienced through the unique perception of the individual.
Each place will feel different to each person; my daughter feels drawn to Japan, while my son feels drawn to Spain like me. You never know how a distant area of the world may feel to your soul. But once you’re there, you will know if this is YOUR place.
The place that takes your breath away that makes your heart skip a beat, and in its absence, you long to return. You dream of walking the streets, and you know that while it is not home, it feels more like home than anywhere you have ever been.
What can we learn from other cultures?
Exploring a new culture allows you to learn so much about the world around you. I discovered that my understanding of the world was severely impaired by not interacting with people outside of my familiar circle. When we only surround ourselves with people who are “like us” or who “have the same belief systems as us,” we alienate ourselves from a slew of experiences and interactions that may very well allow us to develop and expand our views and understanding of the world.
Communication is the key to connecting to people on a whole new level. We can begin to do this right here at home; however, over time we must move beyond our boarders. The more we know about our brothers and sisters worldwide, the more genuine compassion and altruistic love we develop for humanity.
I hope you are considering checking your campus email for Study Abroad options. Do not allow fears to hold you back! Embrace the leap of faith, set out to explore the world, and get to know your fellow humans. As you go into this experience, be ready to let your guard down, trust the experience, and embrace new cultures. You never know; you may learn something new about yourself. Or, like me, you may discover that home is where the heart is, and your heart may belong in a distant land, far away from where you currently are.
I hope this inspires you to embrace such opportunities to explore the world.