Why studying abroad will change your life

spainIn spring of 2010 I studied abroad in Spain. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I wrote this piece a while back, but this goes out to all of my study abroad homies.

You land in the airport of some country you’ve been Googling pictures of for the past 6 months. You panic for a second when you can’t find your passport, but exhale when you realize you’ve actually been clutching onto it the entire flight for fear that you would loose it, not clear customs, and be forced back to your ordinary life at college.

After meeting up with the rest of your group, you are bused to a small town in some European or South American country where you shuffle off and meet up with your host family who begins to speak to you in a language you can only understand bits and pieces of.

You spend the next few days trying to figure out how to get to the school where you are taking classes, how to use the metro, which buses you will need to take, and how to understand what your host mom is saying.

The next few weeks are a blur of finding the cool people in your study abroad group, becoming friends with them, finding the best bars to hang out in, going into the city and coming home way too late at night. You don’t really pay attention to school (usually you are asleep because you were out so late the night before) and let’s be honest, you care more about having fun and enjoying the country than studying for any test or writing a paper.

The weekends are spent visiting new towns, taking pictures in front of historical landmarks, visiting ancient cities,
eating way too many pastries, and still staying out until the sun rises. You become closer with the people you are sharing this bizarre and unreal experience with. You tell funny stories. You hook up. You pass notes in class.

Then you realize there are only a few weeks left. You stay out even later. You contemplate kissing a local. You realize you’ve gained 8 pounds in 6 weeks. You freak out that you haven’t done everything that you wanted to do. You sleep less.

All of the sudden you find yourself packing everything back into the suitcase you haven’t looked at in months. You get creative in figuring out how to fit everything in with the souvenirs you have acquired. You go out to your favorite bar with your favorite people for the last time. You sing along to the songs that define the past few months. You cry. The next morning you say goodbye to your host family and cry again. And then you are on a plane headed back to normal life.

You don’t realize how much your life has changed until you get back home. Then, after spending hours looking through pictures of the places and people you’ve spent the past few months with, you start to feel it. The aching piece of your heart you left in that other country. And you’re left with stories and memories. But, even though you know that nothing you do will ever compare to those epic months, you would never trade it in for anything else. Because you’ll never be the same and you’ll never to be able to fully explain it to anyone else. You’ll just remember that time you were sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking a city and you’re friend whispered, “You realize we will never get to do anything like this ever again.” Or the time you got yelled at by the police. Or exploring castles. Or having so many inside jokes you start to loose track. Or spending afternoons in the Plaza and stealing wifi from Mcdonalds and watching the locals. And you’ll have get-togethers with your bff’s from the trip and argue about the location of that sketchy club and laugh at the time two of you hooked up in the subway station at 6am while everyone waited for the first train of the morning to take you back into town. And it’s those unexplainable moments that will change your life forever.

Study abroad