If you’re asking how (and if) study abroad will impact your life, this story is the answer. We recently connected with AIFS alum Rich who studied abroad at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in the summer of 1973. 45 years later, Rich can confidently say that studying abroad changed his life – and molded him into who he is today.
The following is Rich’s story, with excerpts from his 1973 abroad journal in italics.
Tuesday, July 10 – Wednesday, July 11, 1973 “We boarded the plane at 10:30 PM. We were supposed to take off at 10. The flight took forever – 6 crappy hours. We set our watches to Aberdeen time as soon as we boarded. I slept. Some kids stole blankets.”
This is my first journal entry from my AIFS trip to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland and the accompanying tour through ancient cities. Little did I know on that day, how this six week journey would profoundly change my life. It’s only now, 45 year later, that I can fully appreciate the lessons learned with AIFS that have helped me throughout my life.
Wednesday, August 1, 1973 “Today we went sightseeing. Saw the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s, Big Ben, the changing of the guard & Buckingham Palace. I took a million photos. Tonight, I tried calling home but I couldn’t get an international operator.”
Truth be told, I have a photo album of this trip. I took exactly 12 photographs from this day. I’m in none of them. No selfies, no group shots. All photos of buildings. In fact, the buildings look exactly the same today. Imagine traveling overseas for the first time to London and taking only 12 photos. Now imagine being away from home for six weeks and only trying to call home once. That’s right, no cell phones and no internet. We were as cut off from our families as you can be. AIFS wasn’t posting images or sending emails to our families to let them know we were safe. In fact, this independence from my family was one of the most important lessons I learned. I had to take care of myself. I had to ration my spending money. I had to decide what to do, who to do it with, and when to wake, when to go to sleep and when to study. This independence was great preparation for college life just a few years later. But it was also a good lesson on meeting my own expectations instead of worrying about the expectations of others.
Thursday, July 19, 1973 “Well we had all of our classes today. Mr. Robinson, the headmaster, laid down some more rules to watch what we do. Tonight, Margie and I took a long walk on the beach (North Sea) which is about 1 mile away. We talked a lot. And that’s it. Really. That’s it.
At 15 years old, I was a class clown. I had gotten by in school with personality, charm and just enough studying to pass my classes with grades that made my parents proud. Unfortunately, in a college environment, with my Scottish professors, nobody cared about personality or charm and clearly my study habits needed to improve. That was the lecture I got from Mr. Robinson. If I intended to make something of myself, I had to put in more effort. Believe it or not, that was the first time in my entire life anyone was ever that direct with me. I was dancing through life without a care in the world and then a headmaster who had known me for all of eight days saw right through me. It was an eye-opening experience. And life changing. From that day forward, school became more important. Substance mattered more than style. I became a better student. And while I never had the opportunity to thank Headmaster Robinson, he probably changed my life forever… And for good.
Monday, August 13, 1973 “We got to Alanya, Turkey at 1:30 PM. We had a really quick sightseeing tour of the old city then 2 hours of shopping. Then we went swimming. We saw local kids jumping off a cliff about 40 feet high – into the water below. So, Jan & I went up to watch. After about 45 minutes, we got the courage to jump, it was great fun. That night was pretty cool. In fact, every night is.
Of all the memories I have of my trip, there are a few days that stand out. Jumping off a cliff in Turkey was one of those days. I had formed a very close friendship with three other students, Jan from Georgia, Barb from Connecticut, and Tina (also from Connecticut). We spent virtually every waking moment together. We ate meals together. Wandered through ancient cities together. We learned a lot about life from each other. Kindness. Humility. And most of all, loyalty. When you spend six weeks with a small group, having a loyal group of friends who will stick by you, even during bad days, taught me a lot. I can never thank them enough.
August 19, 1973, last day “I can’t believe it’s over. I can’t believe I will never see these people again. I can’t believe I was nervous to come. I can’t believe it. So many things have happened during this trip. I tried to write about it. But honestly, you really had to see it to appreciate it. I knew this trip would be great. I didn’t know it would be THIS great!!!”
In case you are still deciding whether to go on an AIFS Study Abroad trip, read the paragraph above over and over again. I love the line ‘you really had to see it to appreciate it.’ That sentiment is so true. You have to get out there. Get out of your comfort zone. Be in the moment.
I can’t imagine the person I would be today without this AIFS adventure. Without Headmaster Robinson’s advice. Without the friendship of my classmates. Without the independence from my family. Without learning about myself on my own. In the 45 years since this trip, I have travelled the world. I’ve had an incredible career. My entire family loves taking unexpected adventures. And I credit it all to AIFS. It changed my life. Because I expected more of my life.
And that started in the Summer of 1973.
AIFS Alumni 1973