One of my freshman year professors did not see the use in studying abroad.
“You can travel much further within the pages of these old books than you can on an airplane,” he said as he patted the cover of The Odyssey.
And to some extent, he is probably right. Immanuel Kant never traveled more than a few miles outside of his hometown, and yet he traversed the mind in a way comparable to the journeys of few.
Likewise, in Of the Education of Children, Montaigne includes Horace’s advice to “live beneath the open sky and dangerously.” Yet, as a class, we were able to delve into the various implications of this statement, growing in understanding of ourselves as human beings, while sitting around a seminar table within the walls of Stokes 203.
Nevertheless, 50 percent of students at Boston College choose to study abroad, and the reasons for their desire to do so are diverse. Some want to travel Europe, others want to experience an unfamiliar culture, some want to drink their way through an entire semester, some want to participate in a particular program, and some want to step away from BC for a short time. These reasons are not mutually exclusive, however. It is very possible, and even quite probable, that a student may have many of these motivations for studying abroad. But it is important for each individual person to reflect upon what he or she wants out of an abroad experience before definitively deciding on a place of study.
Studying abroad for a semester has always been part of my “plan” for college. My family has always talked about it as if it were something that I am going to do, and I had no objection. I am expected to go abroad—it is even a requirement of my “Memo of Understanding for College” (yes, a college contract) that I agreed upon with my parents before beginning freshman year.
As sophomore year progressed, studying abroad became a more dominant conversation topic among friends, and it soon became a reality. I had to sincerely ask myself why I want to go abroad, or if I even have this desire to do so. It did not take me long to decide that I do indeed want to spend a semester in a foreign country. In fact, it felt more like a reclaiming of a decision I had already made. I took ownership of the fact that I wanted to invest myself in this experience rather than fulfill an intention I have had for years.
While reclaiming this decision, I realized that I want an immersion experience. I want to immerse myself in the culture of South America, live with a host family, and become proficient in Spanish. Traveling Europe would be stimulating, edifying, multi-cultural, and simply a grand time. At this point in my life, however, I want to plant roots somewhere. Even now, I am not sure exactly what that statement entails, but I know I want to plant them in South America.
This idea of immersion excited me, but then reality set in. In a year, I will be on another continent, living with a family that is not my own, and taking classes in a language I will have been studying for only two years. That scared me. I was no longer romanticizing the idea of an abroad experience. It is probably going to be one of the hardest things I do.
When I expressed these concerns to my former Spanish professor, she looked at me and emphatically stated, “Emily, you just have to go. You’ll go, and you’ll do it, and you’ll be fine. And you’ll come back a changed person.”
Her confidence in me was empowering. I just have to go—not in a naive way but in a way that allows me to be open to the learning that can occur when I am outside of my comfort zone. At some point, I have to stop thinking about everything that I will be missing at BC and simply go. I have no idea what I will be involved in a year from now, but I know it will be different from what I would be doing at BC, and there is great potential in that.
Rob Bell said, “There is great danger in thinking that our world is the world.” Studying abroad is an opportunity to expand and inform my worldview. The knowledge contained within the books I read is important, but experience is equally so.
During a semester abroad, knowledge and experience, the metaphysical and the physical, collide. I, like Montaigne, want a well-made head rather than a well-filled one. Living dangerously beneath the open sky may beget failure and suffering, but these uncomfortable realities are vital pieces of my own odyssey.
Featured Image by Casey Fyfe / Unsplashed.com