The Secret To Fully Embracing Your Study Abroad Experience

“College is a bubble.” I hear that phrase tossed around often at awkward family reunions or even among my friends.

I came to realize the truth in this statement during my first Christmas break home when I watched the news on television. Even though I thought I was semi-aware of the world around me, I was greeted with the reality that I hadn’t really been paying attention to the world at all. I couldn’t really converse about the crisis in Syria or the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, but I could get into the dynamics of who was hooking up with who and the inner workings of my friend group. I had created a mini-world within the world – and that was my college community.

Living, eating, working and sleeping with the same people on the same campus, it can be easy to lose perspective. You become fully consumed in the daily drama and assignations of the college. In some instances, this is great, but in other instances it can be detrimental. There is nothing better than getting spirited at a pep rally or dancing the night away with your friends. But there’s nothing worse than having a fight with your best friend and feeling like all of your friends will take sides. No matter the size of your campus your college world becomes your only reality.

I spent my first two years straight at my university with few breaks. The summer before my sophomore year, I went to a summer long business minor. I had two week breaks as bookends at the beginning and the end of the summer before I started school again. At the time, being away from my parents was precisely what I needed. But in a sense, it skewed my perspective.

By the end of my sophomore year, I was exhausted. I had lost touch with myself and reality. My daily life was consumed with my 8,000 person community and its inner workings. Small snide remarks felt calamitous. The opinion of a small group of people felt like the defining words of who I was as a person. My small world which I had built around myself wasn’t cozy anymore — I was stir crazy.

When I deposited myself in France for my junior year, I didn’t have many expectations. I figured I would discover a part of the world and maybe party all night. Though I did travel a lot and went out probably an equal amount, I discovered something far more precious than the Seven Wonders of the World or the miracle of a fresh baguette – perspective. Suddenly all of the drama of who was sleeping with who, what mixers everyone was going to and who was saying what seemed incredibly insignificant.

Study abroad gave me distance. It gave me perspective. Juxtaposing myself into a new community, city, and university, I came to realize that all of the minute details that had once consumed my life where just that – minute details. In the grand scheme of things, all the “who said what” really wasn’t all that important. In fact, that world of college which can seem so overwhelming that you surrounded yourself with is really, actually quite small.

Over this past weekend, I was talking to my friend who also studied abroad with me about what is was like being back in the United States. She told me, “I feel different and a lot of things feel stupid now that I thought once mattered.” I agreed.

Trying to tell my French friends about my college experience, sometimes I felt just silly explaining all of it. It felt slightly bizarre as I began to realize that my college experience is just one of many millions of experiences and that there are more important things out there. Or listening to my friends caught up in the daily drama, I was able to offer a fresh perspective. Where I once shrugged away, “it’s not the end of world”. I began to realize, truly yes, it’s not the end of the world.

There are many communities and worlds within our worlds, some are bigger than others and some are more important. But each make us feel a certain something when we make them. They tend to supply us with what we need at that given time. After I studied abroad, I realize that the certain level of comfort which I had needed at my college wasn’t what I need anymore necessarily.

Maybe a part of this is growing up, but maybe also a part of it is seeing another side of the world, another way of life.

Featured Image via Aly Meyer

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