May 23, 2019 | 78° F

LYON: Americans should put aside their fears, try studying abroad

Opinions Column: London by Knight

Just one year ago, I was in the midst of my junior year of college and I made the decision that I had to take a semester abroad. This was something I tossed around in my mind quite a bit, but this was also something that I never properly researched and acted upon. It always seemed nice. I imagine I am like so many other Rutgers students in this sense.

Once I made this decision, the convincing began. I spent so much time battling my parents: My mother about responsibility with finances and safety and my father, who is always quick to inform me of the catastrophe involved with visiting any country you can name (who religiously reads this column!).

There are so many reasons that people don't study abroad or simply just travel, and a lot of concerns people have mirror the concerns of my parents. Students have to think about finances, the restrictions of their guardians and current events in the world, etc.

A major component that is steering Americans away from travel is fear. Whether it is fear of flying, of adjusting to a different country or of leaving behind one's family -- I know this because I was fearful myself, and I have several friends who have found themselves apathetic to the study abroad process because of it. I didn't want to be paralyzed or restricted by uncertainty and my love of comfort, and I let what I wanted overcome what I fear. I urge those who are primarily restricted by fear, who otherwise have no other limitations, to push themselves.

I put my fears on the back-burner and dedicated much of my time to be able to study abroad, while still keeping up with my coursework and an internship. I spent so much time hunting down people at Rutgers to get classes approved, to get written recommendations, to keep track of my progress with the Center for Global Education and ensure I wasn't missing anything. 

I also spent hours back and forth, all around New Brunswick to submit my application for something that too many people in this country don't have — a passport. I was much like the 64 percent of Americans who do not have a valid U.S. passport. 

If I didn't have a passport and if I didn't study abroad, I wouldn't have been able to go to Ireland this past weekend and see the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher. This is a trip I knew I wanted to take, but I didn't realize how necessary it was, and to be there and recognize the place from photos, and from Harry Potter and to just explore was so unique and an unforgettable experience. 

Of course, to get yourself motivated to do anything new it's kind of scary. My first day in London, I felt the fear. I got here later than all of my peers from Rutgers, and they were already on an adventure as I was just beginning to breathe the musky air in a building I was about to call home for the next few months. I set my things down and inquired at the front desk about where I could buy a towel, and the kind woman suggested a place 20 minutes away by foot. 

I thanked her, and I set out on a journey around my area that lasted two hours. I was overwhelmed. I was happy to be in London but worried about getting lost, about not having friends, about being disappointed. I was worried I bit off more than I could chew by just thinking I could actually go to London and make it. I sweated on the streets and panicked on a bench in front of a Clerkenwell Cafe that I now visit several times a week. 

For a while, I accepted the idea that I would travel sometime and this comforted me. But I realized that nothing will happen until I go for it. This is true of things, big and little, of all importances in my life. I can sleep in a little later than normal just like I do in America, or I can explore a new part of the city. I can sleep, or be taken by curiosity, from stand to stand at Southwark's Borough Market. I can watch a campy movie I've seen too many times, or I can get caught up in a dance in Shoreditch, or catch glimpses of Shakespeare's Globe on a rainy nighttime run along the River Thames, or be delighted with an intimate performance of Romeo and Juliet at the historic Rose Theatre.

I've had moments where I settled into London, enjoyed universal thrills out of fear of trying new things, but these moments made me realize how important it is and how easy it is to just push myself to do something. Like wake up early or go somewhere new by myself that I'm not entirely sure how to get to.

The fear of doing new things and taking the steps to do what I want is, of course, still present, but my experiences have shown me how easy it is to do that, and it started simply, with just a bit of research.

Abigail Lyon is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and theater arts. Her column, “London by Knight,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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