Six honest feelings you have before moving abroad 

In exactly one month from today, I will be arriving in Ireland to start a new chapter– graduate school. Of course, I am excited, but there are a number of other emotions that accompany a transatlantic move. There are many joys of starting a new adventure, but there are a few anxieties that arise, too. Here are six honest feelings you’ll have before moving to a new country.

Slight Panic

I’ll admit, some days the panic feels more than “slight.” There are immigration forms to fill out, visas to apply for, and currency to exchange. You’ll have to find health insurance, a place to live, and so much more. Even though you knew this change was coming, it suddenly feels like it’s approaching quickly. In my years of abundant travel, I have learned not to necessarily believe in fate. However, I believe in good things happening to the right people who take the right chances. Your situation will fall naturally into place, if you work for it. 

Exhilaration

Moving to a new place is undeniably thrilling. There will be new sights, smells, and food to try. You’ll get to know differentpeople, cultures, and ways of life. This is a wonderful time, and it’s important to savor every minute of it. On the days when you feel most excited and looking forward to the future, hold onto those feelings. They will come in handy during times of panic and anxiety that come with the territory. 


Independence

This is the first time you’ll truly be on your own. You’re going off into a whole new world, and it’s unlikely you’ll have the same guidance you received at home. This is both wonderful and can truthfully be downright terrifying. You’ll be in charge of yourself, and you won’t have people to answer to. Moving is a true test of your responsibility, your drive to succeed, and your ability to adapt in new situations. If you take the necessary steps to adjust smoothly and safely, you will surely thank yourself in years to come.

Nostalgia 

Before you leave, everything at home or wherever you are will sparkle a little brighter. You’ll spend more and more time reflecting on happy memories, and on some level, how hard it may be to leave them behind. Not only this, but you’re acutely aware of the goodbyes to come. Don’t let this overshadow your excitement. The cliche states that when one door closes, another opens. Try to remember that no door is truly closed, as your loved ones will always be there to support you in whatever adventure you decide. Each ‘goodbye’ could lead to another ‘hello.’

Hopefulness 

As much as moving abroad can be frightening, you are filled with hope that the experience will be everything you dreamed of. You walk with a little more pep to your step. Your dreams are filled with visions of new friendships and a fulfilling life in an exotic location. For every anxiety about moving, you are likely feeling equal parts hope that your experience will be joyful and lead to happy memories.

Gratitude

As much as this is an independent quest, you know that you could not do this without the support of others. This is your family, who have always believed you are capable of incredible feats. You know that without your friends to lean on, you would not have made it through the many trials and tribulations it took to get you to this pre-departure point. You know that if your professors hadn’t taken the time to talk with you about the upcoming changes, you would not have been able to stand on your own two feet during this process. Thank the ones that love you most before you go. 

Why I Keep Choosing Travel (…and why travel keeps choosing me)

As a child, I would never have thought to describe myself as “adventurous.” I was most comfortable at home, or taking familiar vacations and talking to familiar people. Three years ago, this all changed when I packed an overweight suitcase and hopped on a plane to Heathrow Airport. This one decision, to embark on Semester at Sea when I was coming out of my first year of college, changed my life irreversibly.

It wasn’t a slow, careful, or deliberate decision to start traveling for me. It was a complete and total leap of faith. 

First port of call- Lisbon!

The decision came quickly. I had vague memories of a childhood babysitter discussing Semester at Sea with my parents when I was much younger. I had parused the Semester at Sea website, after hearing an upper classman discuss her fall voyage one March afternoon. The summer voyage application deadline was approaching: Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

As silly as it sounds, my first thought was, “I’ve always loved that Norway ride at Disney’s Epcot.” 

Once I’d applied and received my acceptance, not to mention frantically applied for the proper visa, reality set in. I would be traveling Europe for a whole summer. I would be trying different food, meeting new people, and living on a shipboard cabin the size of a typical bathroom. It didn’t hit me that I was truly on my own until my parents were dropping me off at the airport, wishing me a great summer. 

I went in with zero expectations. I had such little knowledge of the continent, seeing as I didn’t even know rain was likely in London. I had packed shorts and t-shirts, and was not prepared for cool breezes of Scotland or the damp nights in Ireland. I didn’t bother flipping through guidebooks, for some reason I’m still not sure. Perhaps this was due to nerves or uncertainty, or perhaps both. Now that I’d classify myself as an experienced traveler, I like everything planned out in detail. 

London, June 2014

I didn’t realize then that three years later, I’d be reflecting on each adventure, both large and small. I didn’t know that things I would miss out on, or time wasted with people who didn’t have my best interests in mind, would catch up with me. I look back now and regret not being brave enough to travel to Sintra Palace in Portugal. Lisbon was our first port, and I was not yet ready to travel somewhere remote by myself, even though I knew I wanted to see the colorful palace. I could make more excuses, but the reality is that I just didn’t know I’d think about it so much in years to come. 
The lesson here is to jump. If something scares you, you’re probably traveling right. As long as it’s safe and healthy, proceed with caution, and go forth. Someone famous said to do one thing a day that scares you, and looking back, I wish I’d done more. 

It took a couple of ports and some soul-searching to come to the understanding that I didn’t just choose traveling, but that traveling had somehow chosen me. No, I wasn’t in love with every second on the ship, there are of course ups and downs. However, by the time we hit Ireland in early July, I knew something was calling to me. Specifically, I knew that one adventure wasn’t enough. Three years later, I know now that no amount of adventure isn’t enough, life can’t be quantified. Life can only be measured in moments. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. 

Amsterdam, April 2016

I left Semester at Sea with a heavy heart, pretending to embrace a continued life at my home institution with a smile. The facade didn’t work, because within days of arriving back to the US, I was back in the familiar chair at the study abroad office asking how we could make it possible so I could spend my junior year in Ireland. I was told I’d have to raise my grades, write powerful essays, and be on the receiving end of glowing recommendations. It wasn’t impossible, but a whole junior year at Trinity College Dublin, I was told, was unlikely. 

I took yet another leap, and landed comfortably in Ireland for a whole academic year the following September. I have professors, friends, and family to thank for study abroad round two. I’d like to say that mine is a story of bravery and perseverance, which is partially true, but it is mostly a story of falling through the right set of cracks. Much of my journey around the world has been possible because of the chances I took, and the people I’ve met along the way. 

I chose Ireland because of how solid I felt when I got there. I based my future off of a gut feeling, which of course, I highly recommend. It has paid off and then some. Because after a year at Trinity, full of adventure and joy, I came back to the US for the second time with a vengeance. I fell in love with seeing the world, but I also fell in love with academics. I needed to go to graduate school, and I needed it to be in Ireland. I am beyond lucky to state that I’ll be calling University College Dublin my home in a matter of weeks. 

I choose travel because of the friends I’ve made along the way. These people have left a long lasting imprint on my life, and I would not be the same had we not seen the world together. I am lucky enough to have made lifelong friendships with my study abroad cohorts, both in Ireland and on Semester at Sea. 

Friendship at Blarney Castle, Ireland

I choose to go abroad (for the third time) because as cliche as it sounds, I found myself on the other side of the world. I found myself through books, adventures and misadventures, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to practice my navigational skills in a new city once again. It took getting horribly lost in a small Scottish city, with my heart pounding in my ears, to be able to understand what my capabilities are as a traveler and a person. It took wandering Amsterdam, aimlessly, for hours with someone I’d confidently call a best friend to understand the very definition of trust and a true spirit of adventure. 

I choose travel because I caught both flights and feelings in Ireland, almost two years ago, and I can’t wait to be reunited with my better half. 

I am choosing travel because I would not be the same without it. I would not be the same had I not improperly packed for Europe there years ago. I would not be the same had I not learned my lesson by not going to Sintra Palace. I would be a much different person had I stayed at my home institution, and didn’t take a risk by spending two semesters in Ireland instead of one.  
I am choosing to find a place for myself abroad, for the third time in three years, because I don’t know who I’d be otherwise. 

Barcelona, February 2016

To first-time study abroad students

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. 

Me featuring a baby reindeer in Sweden!

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.

Fjords in Norway

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. 

Five little ways to make the most of study abroad

Everyone’s advice before studying abroad is always, “Make the most of it, because it all goes by too quickly.” But how exactly do you do that, and what are the easiest ways to make your experience more meaningful? After three semesters abroad, here are my top tips on making the most of this special experience.

Travel If you’re in Europe, budget airlines, trains, and bus systems will take you around the continent for a discounted rate. See as much of the world as you can, chances are, you’ll only have this opportunity a handful of times.

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Spend time in your host country That said, it can be easy to spend every weekend in a new city when you’re abroad. Focus your energy on the country you chose to study in. Getting to know the culture, people, and environment of your chosen study abroad location is an experience you’ll always treasure.

Eat local Skip McDonald’s! One of my personal guidelines for being abroad is to never spend money on a meal that you could get at home. If you’re on a budget, try some street food in your new country. Between haggis in Scotland, and stroopwaffels in Amsterdam, the local street cuisine is always exciting and top-notch.

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Put down the phone Yes, it’s tempting to Instagram every meal or major tourist attraction, but life is only measured in moments. Looking back, you’ll be glad you seized every opportunity for new adventures instead of worrying about the amount of likes on a photo. Be sure to be living for yourself and not your social media followers. Be wholly present in your new surroundings.

Engage with locals It’s tempting to stay comfortable within your group that you studied abroad with, and only travel and socialize with a familiar cohort. In order to maximize your study abroad experience, it’s crucial to get to know the local people and customs. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.