Last Updated on November 8, 2019 by Emma James
Debating whether or not you should study abroad? Not sure whether to take the leap or not? I’m here to explain why there’s no more thinking needed – just do it.
I remember very vividly what it was like going through the steps of applying to the AIFS program back in August of 2016. I had to shake myself a few times when I caught myself thinking, “What am I doing? Is this really a good idea?” Of course, it was natural to be nervous about living over 5,000 miles from home, but I had this reminder in my head, this phrase, that I would repeat to myself when I had those thoughts – stop stopping yourself. College is the time to take chances, to appreciate life deeply and to do everything in your power to experience new and wonderful things.
Studying abroad is indeed a huge leap of faith, no matter your personality or where you come from. Personally, the decision to study abroad for a semester in Italy was very out of character for me. I’m a major homebody and have to surround myself with my close friends and family constantly. Moving one’s entire life to another country, another continent, and becoming immersed in a completely different culture is a huge change. This hit me hard as I was preparing to leave. I’ve always been a travel fiend, especially alongside my family, but my naturally passive self was suddenly realizing just how different this experience would be.
I’ll be the first to admit, my heart was pounding a hundred miles a minute when I hugged my mom goodbye at the airport. The TSA people probably thought I was nuts from how badly my hands were shaking when I handed over my passport, but I was just such a ball of anxiousness and excitement that I couldn’t help it. Boarding my plane to Italy was the first time I felt that confidence creep into my mind, and it’s been growing ever since. I’ve gained the confidence to leave my home friends and family behind, and know that I can pick up with them right where we left off when I go home. I’ve gained the confidence to make new friends and ultimately adopt an entirely new way of life. While I can see how different everything in Italy is, I can also see such a change in my character alongside this gain in confidence. I appreciate it when I struggle through a sentence in Italian and the caffè owner laughs with me and kindly corrects me, because then I know better for next time. Every single day on my walk to school, passing through a huge park, admiring the gorgeous architecture of buildings, watching the flow of the Tiber River and hearing the chatter of street vendors and all the different languages of everyone walking around me will always be different – but it’s a good kind of different. It’s an unforgettable experience, and it’s my personal experience.
The decision to follow through with studying abroad wasn’t easy for me. It wasn’t just “oh hey, I’m going to go have fun somewhere for a semester.” Studying abroad is truly a commitment to many new things: a brand new school system, a brand new way of life, and a brand new list of societal rules that will all indeed be new, no matter where you decide to go. In Italy, I have had to learn an entirely new language, as well. I also have had to figure out how to communicate with and be taken seriously by people who can take one look at my 6-foot tall, blonde frame and know that I’m a foreigner. But if I didn’t take that leap of faith and decide to study abroad, I would have never even begun to obtain the amount of self-confidence I have already gained – and it’s only been a month.
My advice to anyone contemplating studying abroad is this – stop stopping yourself. Take the opportunity of a lifetime. You won’t regret it, I promise. And for those of you reading this who are already abroad, I applaud you, and I hope that you find the same confidence in yourself that I have.
This post was contributed by Emma James, who is spending a semester studying abroad with AIFS in Rome, Italy.