Dear first-time study abroad students,
Congratulations. You’ve made the exciting and life-altering decision to travel somewhere new, and see beyond the horizons that you’ve become accustomed to. This is both wonderful and scary, but as someone who has studied abroad for three semesters, let me assure you that you’ll be alright. In fact, you will grow immeasurably because of this choice.
The months, weeks, and days before your departure will feel long and anxious. You’ll have many questions prior to this new adventure, but at the same time, you know you’re ready to see somewhere new in the world. You’re going to learn a great deal about another culture, and most surprisingly, yourself.
Spend extra time with family before you go, because they will miss you. You may not realize it now, but you’ll be thinking of the ones who love you most in every city you travel to.
It’s been three years since my first study abroad experience with Semester at Sea. Even now, I am still reflecting daily on the small and large adventures I embarked on during Summer of 2014. There are the obvious ones, like traveling to Europe without parents, and hopping off a plane into Heathrow Airport with an open mind and heart.
There are the smaller adventures, like my first stroll around a foreign city independently. I associate Stockholm, Sweden with utmost happiness. It was the first time I went on a non-English speaking public transport by myself. I went to all the museums of my choosing, and had ice cream and waffles for lunch. I was on my own, but never lonely. I walked miles into a park called Skansen, and pet some baby reindeer. The Academic Dean of the ship called me “intrepid”, a word I’d never thought I would be associated with.
During your time abroad, you will learn to rely on others. Your friends will be there for support, safety, and most of all, joy. Your friends are your fellow navigators, your biggest confidants, not to mention those who will leave a mark on you for life. I haven’t seen some of my Semester at Sea friends since we parted ways in Southhampton, England three years ago. However, I know with certainty that if I called one of them up, in need or just for a laugh, I could count on them.
You will absolutely make new friends, but you will most importantly find a friend within yourself. You may travel on your own, eat out on your own, and explore your new universe unaccompanied. Your senses will grow and heighten. You know to hide your passport in a different pocket than your cash, and your sense of direction will be ever-improving. There is no place for self-doubt in travel. You’ll grow in confidence, happiness, and contentment. Study abroad is transformative, by the very definition of the word.
You’ll find the little memories will add up, years later. I have the greatest joy in reminiscing a beautiful morning in Norway, sailing through the fjords three July’s ago. I’d forgotten my wallet in the coffee shop, as I’d insisted on getting a drink and almost making my cohort late for the ferry. By the time I’d thought to look for it, the kind shop owner had rushed it to the only boat leaving the harbor that morning. I remember the crew on the MV Explorer knowing my name, even though I ate meals alone frequently with a book propped up on the table. Most importantly, I remember falling in love with learning again, and seeing the world genuinely as my campus.
I remember hearing Pharell’s ‘Happy’ at every pre-port session and knowing that’s how I was truly feeling. You’ll remember small details like that, too.
There will be moments you miss out on, but know that every adventure is different. There is no “wrong” way to travel. Invest your time, energy, and money only on what you want to explore and experience.
Love every second of it, even when you’re missing home. You’ll find yourself looking back, three years later, wondering how sixty-something days could’ve gone by so quickly.