Last January, after twenty hours of restlessly kneading airplane armrests and turbulent snowstorms, I landed in Madrid, Spain. I staggered off the plane and cowered before a city that stretched outward many miles, yet whose bulk was obscured by a haze. I swallowed hard. Then loaded into a taxi.
That was day one of study abroad.
I had never ventured off campus before, save for home and sheltered vacations. But when I left Madrid five months later, the world had become my campus. I had done it all: leapt closer to Spanish fluency, learned about diverse topics, taught grade schoolers English, tasted fearlessly, and immersed myself in independent adventure.
My confidence had heightened, as well as my awareness of the world. The experience had honed my passions and redirected my academic and career aspirations.
I had redefined myself.
College is for exploration. It’s for expanding horizons and violating comfort zones. While you will take a unique path, pursuing diverse passions and activities, study abroad can benefit you. There is a mind-opening quality about it. You see the world. You establish a second home. You sharpen communicative skills and may radically change your outlook on life.
Every path witnesses new views, perspectives, and ideas. If we are to challenge ourselves emotionally and intellectually, to grow as individuals, why not take that path abroad? Why not wander off the beaten Diag and onto the cobblestone streets of Lisbon or the thousands-year-old steps of Rome? Why not climb the Andes Mountains or double kiss Spaniards or share airplane conversations with South Africans?
Our footprints are our legacy. They tell our story — the long, triumphant strides when we sprinted to new heights, the stumbles when we grappled with unforeseen challenges. They trace the places we have ventured, the choices we have made. And although the rain and wind naturally smooth them away when we’ve long disappeared from the path, the routes we forge inspire others. They chart the unknown. They open new worlds to those that follow.
When I stepped off the airplane into the cool Madrid night, I hadn’t a clue where my path would lead. The miles ahead were hazy, dark, shrouded from sight by the big-city smog. But however threatening the path appeared then, however uncertain I felt, the miles I conquered thereafter were far more rewarding than whatever miles I would’ve repeated at home.
And so I continue forging. I continue chasing profound experiences. Because that’s the impact of study abroad. It instills within you a hunger to uncover new and unseen paths. To chart them for future reference. And to carry those experiences with you as a reminder that you can conquer anything because, after all, you’ve already conquered the world.
Chart your path. Chase adventures. Study abroad.
Nolan M. Kavanagh
University of Michigan