Studying Abroad Shaped My Life

When I traveled to Paris my senior year of high school, I knew that my life as I knew it would be changed forever. Although growing up I saw my fair share of the United States, there was a charming mystique to being in a land with a different language and culture. My heart ached to return to Europe and it wasn’t until my junior year of college that the opportunity presented itself. I packed up and headed to Viterbo, Italy, just two hours north of Rome — when the trains were actually running on time! — to spend a semester studying abroad. I knew just one other person as we embarked on this exciting, nerve-racking, ambitious journey of a lifetime.

Studying abroad was an eyeopening experience. Although I look back at it with fondness, it wasn’t necessarily as glamorous as I tend to describe it to others. But is was certainly worth every minute. I learned many valuable lessons while living abroad, like how culture shock is real, how you literally meet friends for life, and that hitchhiking may not be the best idea, but might be the only option. Travel abroad shaped me into a person who values diversity, inclusion, and open-mindedness, which are all traits I embrace. In many ways I grew up in a bubble, in small, suburban, affluent community. Studying abroad took me out of my comfort zone but also allowed me to find my new normal.

What a lot of people don’t warn you about is reverse culture shock. As hard as it is to get used to a different currency, not really being able to speak the language, having to walk 20 minutes to use the internet and only talking to your family once a week, it can be just as hard to adjust when returning home from living abroad. For starters, it is pretty much impossible to explain your experience to everyone who is bombarding you with a million questions. At first it is challenging to relate to people as well. They can only handle the excitement and enthusiasm to a certain point before they completely can’t relate or just generally get sick of hearing your stories. I think my biggest struggle was trying to get used to not being able to hop on a plane for $50 to go to another country for the weekend. Travel was cheap and easy within Europe.

I still longed for adventure years after my time in Italy ended, so when I learned about SUNY Cortland’s Dual Masters program in International Sports Management I jumped at the opportunity. This program entailed a semester in upstate New York and a another abroad in London. I turned my four month stay in London into a two and a half year experience that included studies, an internship, writing a dissertation and two jobs. Not to mention the four apartments I lived in and the revolving door of roommates that came in and out of my life.

Twenty-two days, seven flights, five countries, and one bag later I could successfully say I backpacked through Europe. That’s when I learned I could survive being a minimalist. After nearly three cumulative years of living abroad, I somehow find myself back in suburbia. I live alone and have few commonalities with people in the area other than the occasional meal out or movie night in. Friends and family ask why I don’t try and have a roommate for company, but I have had 29 so far in just 28 years of life. I miss my travels, not having email on my phone and being able to take it all in without feeling rushed. I am fiercely ambitious and wildly independent, yet I feel lost. I know what I want, I’m just not quite sure how to get it.

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~ by wanderlust1011 on December 5, 2015.

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