My Decision to Study Abroad

For better or for worse, the question of whether or not to study abroad while in college has been on my mind long before I ever needed to answer it. My mom (who would absolutely hate that I’m publicizing this) once told my sister and I that her biggest regret (at the time? in her life?) was not studying abroad when she was my age. That was a decent amount of pressure to feel as I started my junior year, especially because despite my enthusiasm for my Spanish coursework, I began to acknowledge in myself the lingering feeling that keeps many people from studying abroad. I felt that I had a lot to lose and a lot that I would miss if I left the comfort of the Swarthmore campus for an entire semester.

Pueblo blanco granada
Un pueblo blanco (literally “white town”) in Granada.
Granada ciudad
The city of Granada, Spain.

When I was crafting my sophomore plan last spring, I had to face, for the first time, the evidence that I would not be able to graduate with all my pre-med requirements if I went abroad. And although that academic reason was the one I cited the most for my hesitation, I also felt as though my relationships and my general sense of belonging that I have painstakingly developed here during the past three years wouldn’t last the distance.

I still hadn’t made up my mind when I came back to Swarthmore this fall, which put me significantly behind my peers in terms of scouting out programs, or getting a passport, or any of the numerous tedious but not necessarily difficult tasks required to study abroad. And now, as I write this, I’m still not exactly sure when I made up my mind. But I know at some point, I stopped feeling anxious about what I might miss if I wasn’t here next semester. And I realized that for one of the first times in my life, maybe I wanted something different.

If I were to be jaded and pessimistic about this, as I have a tendency to be, I would say I’m in a bit of a Swarthmore slump. My classes have been harder than I expected, and I have the lingering, apprehensive thought that I haven’t grown up as much as I would have liked to, that I’m not the image of the almost-adult I seem to project upon my similarly-aged peers. And lastly, like everyone always says in retrospect, the semester seems to have gone by incredibly fast, in a way that makes me more restless than excited.

Phoenix passport
A ridiculous picture of Phineas the Phoenix holding a giant passport from our Off-Campus Study website.

I’m the kind of person who rolls their eyes when someone says an experience “changed their life.” I know that living in another country for a few months doesn’t give you automatic access into the culture of the place you visit, and I know that all the years of my life I’ve spent in North Carolina, and then later at Swarthmore, likely have much more more of a formative effect on my perspective than a shorter, albeit wilder, experience. But still, I can’t refute the sentiments of the vast majority of my classmates who have returned from their study abroad experiences completely enamored with the semester they had, or at the very least, satisfied in their decision to go abroad.

And so, one day this semester so much like any other day that I can’t distinguish it, I thought about regret. I thought about my slump, and where I wanted to be (figuratively speaking) in the coming semester, and the next few years. I thought about med school and LinkedIn and Biochem, and free tapas and huge Granada lecture halls and my capacity to make friends in another language. And maybe there was a moment in which I acknowledged, perhaps reluctantly, that in front of me stood a relatively simple way in which I could—unironically—change my life.

tapas-and-beer-on-table
In Granada, every drink comes with a free tapa, or a small Spanish appeteizer.

And so I’ve come to yet another moment in my young life in which my mom was right. In which I chose something that makes me admittedly quite anxious so I can avoid later dwelling on what I may have missed. In which I chose to be independent and brave (from my easily-intimidated perspective, at least), and in which I chose to be a little less cynical and a little more hopeful that maybe my time abroad will be more than just tourism. I will spend next semester in Granada, Spain, with a Brown program at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas, because maybe it will be something I’ll never regret.

Granada 1
A beautiful picture of La Alhambra, an Arabic palace and fortress in Granada.

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