Student travels life-changing

Commentary by
Shannon Bowen

Six months ago I was lost in every sense of the word. I was spiraling downwards into a dark place, a place that proves very difficult to come out of: depression.

I was not myself, I avoided my friends and I even contemplated dropping out of my classes midway through spring semester. I was embarrassed – this was never a reality I wanted. My feelings were valid, except no one could fix them but me. Some problems were internal, although most were out of my control, and that is why it became the most difficult time of my life.

Then, it all changed.

A series of unfortunate events led me to the thought process of getting away for a semester. I always held a faint desire to study abroad, so a week before the deadline, I said why not and applied. A couple days in late August before the group flight, I was inches away from backing out. I felt nervous, anxious and unsure of what to expect. I made a last minute decision and said yes. Going abroad to the John Felice Rome Center turned out to be the best decision I ever made.
Before going abroad, I was judgmental towards other people who did not look or act similar to me.

I went by stereotypes and prejudices because they were all I knew. I was not cognizant about the election and had no desire to learn about news, current events or any serious issues other countries are facing this very minute.

I had no ideas for a future career whatsoever, and I thought I could never make a real difference. How wrong I was. All I cared about was going out on the weekends and passing my classes. Now, I have a lot more on my mind.

In a short window of time, my mindset has shifted in ways I never imagined it could. I now have a greater appreciation for art, literature and society as a whole. For example, on a cold and dull January afternoon, instead of staying in and watching Netflix for hours on end – as fantastic as that is – I will do something interesting, like taking a train to the city, visiting a park or museum or reading a collection of short stories at a cafe.

I have learned that life is not all about having a good time but rather actively seeking opportunities to give our lives meaning and trying to make an impact, no matter how small it may be. And that life should never be boring, unless we let it. We are on this planet for a reason – we may as well live while we are alive.

Only halfway through my time in Europe, I have climbed a mountain in Capri, created a documentary film, visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and attended a Symposium for human rights and social justice. I have had on-site classes at the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Trevi Fountain.

I have rode camels in Morocco and slept in a desert under the stars in Northern Africa. My friends have had high tea in London, visited Dracula’s castle in Transylvania for Halloween, gone skydiving in Switzerland and much more.

These are crazy GoPro-type things I would not have dreamed of doing otherwise. I simply did not consider them as possibilities, but they are possible, more possible than some may think.

All it takes is hopping on a plane and getting there – give or take a few stress-filled moments of planning. The things that scare us, excite us and make us nervous are quite possibly the greatest and most necessary things involved in living the best lives we can live.

I believe if we are not constantly pushing and challenging ourselves, we are not growing as human beings.

Should you choose to go abroad for a semester, there are some important things to note.

You will be frustrated, confused and uncomfortable with cultural differences – especially if there is a language barrier. You will make mistakes, and you will not get nearly enough sleep. But abroad is not the time for sleep. Consider yourself warned. Yes, you will be homesick. You will miss your friends and miss out at things going on at school.

But what you get in return is much more. Not much will change back on home, YOU will change. You will grow as an individual and realize what matters. You will come to terms with who you are and what kind of person you would like to be.

You will appreciate our homeland, America. Starting with the technology – it is different here. Sitting at a computer in a library in Rome, I’m living this. I refused to believe it, but the WiFi is, in fact, worse than they say.

Europe is about 10 years behind in this regard. Truly the ultimate struggle and one of abroad’s most notable sacrifices. You will appreciate air conditioning, having your own car instead of the ridiculous public transportation and deodorant that actually works the way it is supposed to.

You will feel immersed and connected because you are embracing a new and unfamiliar culture that is not your own. You will rely on yourself because you will quickly find out you cannot always rely on others.

This will boost your self-confidence. You will gain communication skills and intercultural awareness. You get to look inside the minds of people with different beliefs, and at times you might even question your own. You will gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and unique experiences, and you will be forced to become independent. Isn’t that what college is all about?

Studying abroad is a decision I cherish, the greatest I have ever made. It has given me so many incredible stories and opportunities. It has opened my eyes to the world and taught me more than a classroom ever could.

I have met diverse people from all around the globe and made lifelong friends. In my time overseas, I have gained a greater sense of self. I have learned powerful life lessons that can only be learned through personal experience.

I have discovered how to be present in the moment without constantly looking down at my palm. Internet connection does not matter as much as we are brainwashed to believe it does. I realized I am capable of traveling to another country by myself, and there is nothing scary to it at all.

The girl I was last semester is someone I will never be again. That time in my life feels foreign now, foggy and distant. I am happy I will never allow myself to go back to that awful place because I know how wonderful life is, as long as you allow it to be.

My time abroad has provided me with a more positive outlook, cultural awareness and friendships that will last a lifetime. I have learned more than I would sitting at a desk, and I hope to carry this newly gained worldview with me for the rest of my life.

To study abroad means challenging yourself and committing to an adventure. Dropping your comfortable life at home and going to see the world is a big decision. It is nerve-wracking, but it is also influential, refreshing and most of all – special.

The goal of this article is to hopefully challenge students to consider going abroad, or at least help them understand that the world we live in has more to offer than you or I could ever imagine. Taking the road less traveled is the way to go – we just have to take the first step.

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