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Study Abroad: The Best Thing You’ll Do in College

2011 August 23
The British Museum, plundering for the ages.

The British Museum, plundering for the ages.

Hey college people, this is why you should go study abroad.

Ahh… it’s August again which means students around the world are heading back to college. An incredibly unique and poignant four-year span of every student’s life, college is a time for experiencing new things, getting out of your comfort zone, and meeting new people. The classes, frat parties, football games, and people you meet all make college a pretty unforgettable experience. As great as all those things are, the real icing on the cake for me was studying abroad. I’d rank it as one of the top three decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

I believe that studying abroad is part of the quintessential American college experience: a fresh faced 20 year old, heading off to some far-flung corner of the world for a semester or year long romp of debauchery, boozing, new experiences, and a shitload of fun. And oh yea, you learn some stuff along the way too.

During my college orientation, a lot of people told me they regretted not studying abroad. I vowed not to make the same mistake. I fulfilled my promise three years later and chose to go to the University of Warwick during the fall semester of my junior year. When the dust settled, I realized that Warwick was on the quarter system, while Berkeley was on semesters.

This meant was that I had a month gap between Cal and Warwick starting. I had two choices: sit around at home or head off to Europe and the unknown. Having never traveled alone before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would I get lost? Would I make friends? Where do I go? What should I do? Sometimes, the best solution is to not think about these things, sack up, and just do it. I packed my backpack, my suitcase, grabbed my guidebook and headed off to Europe for three months.

– – –

As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry about any of those things. I got lost but found my way, I didn’t have friends but I made plenty, I figured out where I wanted to go, and found the things to do at those places. It was my first taste of independent travel and I became addicted. The freedom of being able to go anywhere and do anything you wanted, on your own schedule was something that I had never experienced before.

Prague Castle

One of the stained glass windows of Prague Castle.

I spent the first three weeks hopping from England to mainland Europe (due to orientation in London) and traveled through Switzerland, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, and Oktoberfest in Munich. After classes started, I set up my schedule so I had Fridays and Mondays off, allowing me to see the south of England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, and Barcelona. Since my trip to Europe coincided with the weakest dollar in history, a lot of those trips were prefaced by long nights spent on the airport floor, cheap street food, and slumming around in hostels. And I loved it all.

Three months and nine countries later, I found myself on a flight back to San Francisco. I was poorer than ever before, had a bad case of reverse-culture shock, and felt the post-traveling blues. Yet I had learned how to live cheaply, enjoyed the kindness of strangers, and realized just how big the world is.

– – –

It’s been nearly four years since I boarded that plane to England and yet here I am writing about it today. Studying abroad really sparked my interest in traveling and it shaped me profoundly as a person. A lot of my views on the world and people in general were molded during that three month span. The money I spent has been made back long ago but the experiences and lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So for the people returning to college, do something you won’t ever forget: Go study abroad.

Swiss Alps

One of my favorite pictures of the Swiss Alps.

 

2 Responses leave one →
  1. August 24, 2011

    totally agree. Love the photo of the British Museum!
    Kris Koeller recently posted..Click the Red Button

  2. August 28, 2011

    Title says it all… “The Best Thing You’ll Do in College” = excellent advice. Just do it!

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