By Erin Kayata
Anyone of college age can tell you: If you log onto Facebook these days, you’re suddenly scrolling through an endless stream of study abroad albums. There’s your high school lab partner’s selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower and your freshman roommate backpacking through Italy. There’s a link from your cousin asking to donate to her GoFundMe so she can volunteer in South America, and an article from your favorite news site telling you to forget the money and just go to Europe. It can be overwhelming, to say the least.
According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, approximately 10 percent of US college graduates studied abroad for credit in 2013-2014. Full disclosure: I was one of them. This number is small, but growing, and studying abroad is becoming a norm of the college experience. Students are starting fundraising websites, joining summer programs, and rearranging their academic schedules to travel internationally. It seems like there’s pressure everywhere for students to go abroad while they’re young, despite the financial and academic costs.
There’s a lot to be said about going abroad and experiencing different cultures. But now, two years after I spent a semester studying in the Netherlands, I wonder if these measures are worth it. While I’m grateful for my time in Europe, I’ve realized that what made the experience worthwhile wasn’t the location but the lessons I learned, lessons that I could’ve learned from just traveling within the United States.
One of the best things I got from studying abroad was a group of friends that I’m still close with. Part of our bond comes from our shared experiences together. These experiences happen to be running to catch a bus in Barcelona and getting lost in Paris at 6 a.m. It was the sharing and growing that made us close. Taking local trips with friends can help develop that same close bond.
The other biggest gain of studying abroad for me was learning to travel on my own. Hopping planes without my parents seemed more liberating than anything I’d done before. However, I realized as I was doing this that I’d been gaining the foundations of these skills since I started taking the train back home by myself during my freshman year of college. When I came home from Europe, I felt confident enough to take my first big road trip solo, and the following spring break I flew alone for the first time to Texas. I felt more confident in myself, not from traveling in Europe, but by taking the plunge to travel solo at all.
It’s easy for me to say all this when I have had the experience of studying abroad, and I’ll always be grateful for that. But, while all the memories are lovely, what’s lasted the longest is the personal growth that any sort of travel can provide.
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