Studying Abroad Changed My Life (Which Makes Me Just like Everyone Else)

For many people studying abroad is a formative experience, but for me it changed everything. It altered the way I looked at travel, my place in the world and my ability to express myself. It also introduced me to some of my favorite people.

group2007

Some of my favorite people from my time in Scotland.

Before I spent the semester in Scotland during my junior year of college I knew that I wanted to travel and see the world but in a very hypothetical way. I didn’t know what it meant or how to do it. Visiting a country where you didn’t speak the language seemed ridiculous. Going somewhere by myself was out of the question. Now there are very few places I wouldn’t consider going. Most of those places are countries in civil war. I have confidence in my ability to navigate a train system (except in Berlin, that place is so confusing) or mime what I need at a store.

Studying abroad taught me to be an American. When I was in Scotland, Bush was in office and everyone felt entitled to tell me what they thought of America and our President. I had to learn to have pride in my country as well as humility. No pretending to be Canadian. My country has its embarrassments and its triumphs. Doesn’t yours? I mean, Hello British Empire! Just saying…

A picture from our first reunion in South Carolina, a year after study abroad.

A picture from our first reunion in South Carolina, a year after study abroad.

Growing up my family had spent a lot of time discussing where our ancestors had come from and we described ourselves as English, Scottish and Irish. We listened to Celtic music and I loved watching Irish dance. But being in all of those countries taught me that I am only an American. That is the culture that shaped me. I can be interested in my lineage and learn about the history of my ancestors but me? Little ol’ me? I’m an American mutt like so many others. I could no longer try to claim the cultures of others.

Studying abroad in college was the first time I didn’t know a soul. No one else from my home college went with me. I didn’t know anyone. Typically a shy person I was determined not to waste this time. I introduced myself. I made friends. I spoke up in class. I said what I thought. It was new to me and yet it came easily. When I went back home to Asheville, my new roommates called me “no nonsense”. The way I interacted with my friends had been forever altered. It was difficult, in some ways, to maintain friendships with people I knew from before. I gravitated towards people who had also spent semesters away from Asheville or towards people who didn’t know me before. New people didn’t have expectations. I could present my new self without confusion or questions.

A partial reunion in Australia in 2010.

A partial reunion in Australia in 2010.

The friendships I made in Scotland are still some of the most important ones to me. Thank goodness for Skype and Facebook. I do not get to speak with them as often I would like but I think of them often. This year I’ve been lucky to have two of them visit me in Wilmington- not an easy place to get to for a Canadian and an Australian.

anitaandi

naomiandi

Many times I meet people who have changed their lives or career paths because of their study abroad experience. I met one just this week. I can honestly say, I completely understand.

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