The University of Delaware is very proud to be “First” at stuff. We’re still hanging on to the fact that we were the first state. Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things, but it does to Delaware. So UD is very proud to have the oldest study abroad program in the United States. It began in 1923, and 93 years later, I benefitted from the radical thinking of Professor Raymond W. Kirkbride, who pushed for the development of a program for juniors to spend the year in France. Now, we have an endless list of opportunities that fit the needs and interests of all kinds of students. You can spend Winter or Summer abroad, or elect for a longer semester or full year in another country. There is literally a program for every student that wants to participate.
The diverse expanse of opportunities that are available leads me to my next statement: Everybody should study abroad. When you decide to become a traveller, you learn so much about yourself and your place in the world. You begin to recognize and understand your role as a global citizen. You acquire life knowledge that has absolutely nothing to do with academics, the kind of stuff that can’t be learned from safety of your little campus bubble.
When you study abroad…
You learn to step out of your comfort zone.
Neale Donald Walsch once said that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Being somewhere new lets you explore your personal relationship with yourself and figure out what you are capable of. You get to find the line you have drawn in the sand and prove to yourself that it is possible to challenge yourself to cross your own boundaries. Maybe a hike turns into a very wet rock climbing session around Diamond Harbor rather than through the trails on the island. Maybe you trek to the top of a mountain in Hanmer for the chance to brush your teeth in a waterfall. Maybe you go white water rafting on the Rangitata River. Or maybe you go to Queenstown and jump off the third highest bungy platform in the world.
I had never eaten lamb before I went to a place that has significantly more sheep than people. Granted, it’s basically beef. But for a picky eater and someone who is afraid to try new things, that was big for me. I promised myself before the trip that I was going to be open and adventurous in every aspect possible, so I tried not to say no to a lot of opportunities that presented themselves. I like who I became in Aotearoa; that person who landed in Christchurch in January, she was great, but the one who took off back to the States in February, she was unstoppable.
You meet people who challenge your perspectives.
Americans are high strung and rude. Believe it or not, there are people out there who aren’t. And they make really great conversation. They’ll talk to you about life, love, land, labor… anything. Most importantly, they’ll provide the chance to see that people have ideas that are different from your own. And a reason for thinking differently. Being able to see that there are many different sides to every situation is an important life skill.
Sometimes, you just need to change your perspective, to take a minute to “Lay down and look up.”
You build relationships with people.
Maybe it’s the friends you left with, or maybe it’s the ones you made along the way, but no matter what, these people that you travel with are going to share something with you that no one else understands. They are going to be the few people who have the same unique experiences as you. Who are also growing and changing their opinions about the world and themselves because of the exposure that they are getting from this new environment. When you get home, no one else will really understand. Some people will try. Others won’t want to hear you ramble on about adventures that they didn’t get the chance to go on. But these people who you share way too much time and too little space with, they will have a bond with you. These are the people who played futball and volleyball out on the rugby pitch with you. They know just how small the dining hall was. They split pitchers with you at the Grouse after dinner. They ate your sandwich fillers and traded you their bread. They bought the same sweater as you. They know about Robby. They saw Christchurch in disrepair, and they’ve been to the Restart Mall. They ate waffles with you at Riccarton Market. They’ve experienced “Antarctica”. They fed the same ducks and fell down the same mudslides. They were there when you were there. They may have experienced it a little bit differently than you did. It may have had a different impact. But these people will always be your New Zealand family.
You take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Be honest, when is an opportunity like this going to arise ever again? To travel with a group of your peers and experience another culture. When are you going to be this young? This alive? This available to explore and take it in? I love my family and appreciate every vacation that we have ever been on, but I had a late night bonfire in Hoki and peed on the beach behind somebody’s driftwood sculpture because my friends and I were in the middle of a very deep heart to heart. I’m not saying there are no rules, but THERE ARE NO RULES. You can get out bed just to hold a wild hedgehog. You can drink all the native beer. You can get Kiwis to dance. You can show them how to play flip cup. You can shove 40 college kids in the most elegant Air B+B ever. (Please see the following photo for the view from their backyard. I’m sorry but, what?! Someone gets to wake up to this every single day – goals.) There are certain experiences that only seem appropriate at this stage in your life; this is the in-between, when you are trying to figure out who you are and where you’re going.
You see how beautiful the world is.
On the way to Akaroa, Queenstown, Hoki Tika, and just about every other field trip, we took the scenic route. Which is pretty difficult to distinguish, since everything in New Zealand seems scenic to me. I saved money on my trip because I was so interested in exploring – I spent a lot of time hiking. In Kaikora, the mountains meet the sea. There’s nothing like it. No way to describe the sense of calm that comes over you from looking out over a landscape that is so breathtakingly beautiful. You return home, and you have this urge to find that beauty somewhere, anywhere. Going abroad allowed me to see things that had always been right in my backyard, things I had been missing because I had been moving too fast to stop and smell the roses. Exploration is addicting. I find that I get restless very quickly; I need to wander. It doesn’t have to be to the other side of the world, even though I love it there. It can be down the street, across town, a few states away, or across the ocean. I want to see it all eventually. I did before, but going to New Zealand stimulated my appetite for adventure. Now there’s a sense of urgency.
You are changed for the better.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett,
Study abroad changes you. You come back with a clear head and an open heart. You are open to people, things, and ideas that are different. Your perspective has changed. You might feel a little homesick for the place you just left, but there’s always hope that you’ll be back someday. I don’t think that the nostalgia ever really leaves you, but I’ve learned that I can use that feeling. As a young member of society about to enter the workforce, you have the unique opportunity of being able to apply what you know and have learned to your everyday life. You can change the world for the better. I try to put on my New Zealand googles when looking at my life and my environment. I try to live my life with the same attitude that I had there – to take more risks, seek adventure, and live in the moment. I can never thank my parents enough for the opportunity that they gave me by allowing me to study abroad. A piece of my heart will always be in Kiwiland.