NIETO-MUNOZ: World travel should be considered in college
Opinion Column: Views from the 39
Everyone thinks studying abroad is just a bunch of fun and games — you go abroad where you’re the legal drinking age and you can prance around cobblestone streets with no worries and travel Europe or Asia or South America, wherever you decide to go. But the truth is that studying abroad can be really scary, and a lot of people don't realize that. Going through the application process, getting your classes approved and then finally being accepted is one of the best feelings ever, but hitting that “commit” button is just as scary as committing to a college. Do I really want to do this? Am I sure this is where I want to go? And then it starts hitting you — you’re leaving your friends, your family, significant other, your pets, your home and you’re going to a strange place where you might not know the language or mannerisms, and you stick out like a sore thumb. But let me tell you — it’s worth it.
I’m studying abroad in Italy this semester, in a small town called Ferrara, which is about an hour and a half outside of Venice for a language intensive program. Hitting that commit button was so scary, but I’m so glad I did it. The most cliche thing you hear from study abroad students is that you learn so much about yourself, but it's also very true. I’m in a small program of about 20 American students ranging from good ol’ New Jersey to Michigan to Oregon, and after a week you find your friends. For the next four months, they’re basically all you have, and you really find yourself in them. After planning your first trip, you find who takes long to pay you back, who likes to plan, who’s spontaneous and likes to wander without an itinerary or a map, who doesn’t have a budget, and who wants to go to the museums. It’s been fun learning about people this quickly, and realizing things that I don’t even notice about my friends back home.
Not only do you notice these things, but you absolutely find yourself. Last weekend, my friends and I took a trip to Florence. We sat at Piazzale Michelangelo (something I totally recommend to all study abroad student that have a chance to visit Florence) and just took the view in. We took turns standing out on the ledge on our own and journaling, listening to music, people watching, and it was beautiful. I believe it was here where I found myself and started thinking about what life is really made of. It’s made up of some beautiful breath-taking moments. I was once the Rutgers student constantly getting "RU Screwed" and eating the Brower food, and now here I am in Italy looking at the sunset. There was a point in time when I was reluctant in coming. I was scared of the language barrier, scared of being lonely, scared I wouldn’t have my priorities in check, but there’s things I’ve found out about myself here that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. For one, I have a terrible sense of direction, but that’s getting better with each day I live here and figure out that every city is basically a huge square. I also feel better planning things than being spontaneous, as fun as that sounds. Studying abroad made me more independent, as well as teaching me how to work in a team. Wandering around in a random city where you don’t know the language can be difficult to do.
I know studying abroad can be scary, and it is. You’re going to get really lost the first week here, you’re going to miss home and you’re going to watch everyone’s snapchats of syllabus week and have major FOMO. Once you commit to it, you have the second thoughts if you’re making the right choice, but if you do end up studying abroad, it will be the best experience of your life, and you will never be able to do it again. The most relevant quote I’ve found to describe this experience is, “Travel far enough and you will find yourself,” and it’s true. Make study abroad a priority when it comes to your college experience, especially if you haven’t truly found yourself yet. Not only will you expand your horizons and become more independent, but you do actually get to prance around in cobblestone streets, which is just as fun as it sounds.
Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is currently studying abroad in Italy through CIEE. Her column, “Views from the +39” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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