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A Letter to the Student Choosing to Study Abroad

by Meredith McLaurin
Young person riding escalator at the airport with a backpack on

I’ve been where you are. You’re looking at pictures and you’re filled with such excitement. It feels like the world is at your fingertips. You’re thinking, “Should I go? Maybe I shouldn’t. What if this happens or this doesn’t?!” because you probably feel out of control. But then one day things change, and you decide to click the “Apply” button. Your fate is sealed.

Following submitting your application, there will be days where you may feel stressed about being left out of memories being made back home while you’re abroad. You may feel scared to leave your parents or your pet. You may feel scared because everything’s going to change, or because you think you won’t survive, or that you will run out of money. But suddenly everything comes together, and you realize you’re actually leaving.

Yes, you’re leaving. It’s the day you are supposed to board your plane. Your loved ones will likely walk you to the gate and hold you in their crying arms, saying, “I believe in you.” And then you both start crying again. But you’re going to put one foot in front of the other just like you always do. Someone believes in you.

Then suddenly the plane is taking off and your dream is now your reality. Your chest will get tight and you just may daydream about opening that emergency exit door, but you don’t. You know you’re in seat 13C for a reason. It has your name written all over it.

You’re landing.

The step off the plane will be the biggest step in your life.

There are new sights and smells. Then you’re meeting the other people in your program. You’ll move into your apartment with strangers who become family. They will see you at your worst and your best. You’ll plan weekend trips together or spring break adventures where you share a carry-on bag with two people for 10 whole days.

Then, one day you’re walking through your new home and it hits you that you’re not home anymore. The comfort of being home is lost, but soon —trust me, soon — you’ll get that same feeling in your new home. Then everything becomes more simple. Breathing is easier, laughing is better, smiling is your resting face. You’ll hostel hop and make friends you’ll only see for three days, but it feels like a lifetime. You’ll forget about missing things back home because suddenly you’re traveling to a new place every weekend. Your dream will be your reality and you’ll wonder if life will ever be so great again.

Take it in. Write it down. Remember: this is what it feels like to be alive. You’ll now understand what they meant when they said “take the chance.” You’ll understand what it feels like to be free and your true self.

So yes, it can be hard to take the leap and study abroad. Sometimes it’s so hard that you’ll cry over missing your dog, or laugh at how badly you want fried chicken and boxed mac and cheese. You may wonder if it’s worth it at times. You may threaten to fly home the next day, but then you have your daily “aha!” moment where you realize you’ve made the best choice possible. Remember it all. Try not to forget every feeling you’re feeling. Be ready to feel alive.

This letter was contributed by Meredith McLaurin, a student from Mississippi State University who is spending her spring semester doing a study abroad program with AIFS in Rome, Italy.

Pin image: A Letter to the Student Choosing to Study Abroad | AIFS Abroad | Study Abroad Advice

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