One year on, I’m reflecting on the areas where study abroad had the biggest impact on my life.
I returned home to Minnesota after a semester abroad in England just about a year ago—I left the London Gatwick airport on May 30th, 2017, and after a short stop in New York to visit some relatives, I arrived in Minneapolis on June 4. I started my new job as a technical writer the next day.
This year has been a crazy whirlwind full of learning and adventures. I’ve had a big-girl job for a year now, and I’ve gotten a lot more confident in my writing skills (this blog is helping a lot with that too!). I’m learning to train other writers and lead projects. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in a short time.
I visited both US coasts this year—from New York to Washington and Oregon. I was in Florida the same week as a hurricane. I went back to the UK and spent Christmas as a solo traveler.
I don’t say all of this to toot my own horn. The past year had some super hard parts; it was probably the lowest I’ve felt in my life. It feels good to look back on it and know that even though there were a lot of difficult days, they are in the past, and there were many high points during that time as well, including great friends and incredible memories made.
I certainly think that my semester abroad continued to have an impact when I got home—things I learned during my program in England helped keep me going on the toughest days. Here are the five biggest ways that study abroad has changed—and is still changing—my life a year later.
5) It made me more outgoing
When I was younger, coming out of my shell and talking to strangers was scary. I felt like there was a wall between myself and everyone else that I had to break through in order to start a conversation, and usually it was too much effort.
But I knew that in order to make friends and not be by myself all semester in England, I had to be more friendly. So I challenged myself to make conversation with other study abroad students, and eventually it started feeling a lot more natural. The wall vanished.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being shy, but it wasn’t getting me the results I wanted, so I knew something had to change. I’m continuing to learn how to make my personality more visible and engage new people I meet. It’s an exciting process. I feel more confident and comfortable with myself.
One friend from Minnesota said, “You’re more fun now.” Uh, thanks? 😛 But it’s true, and I think it’s largely because of study abroad.
4) It shook up my assumptions
I grew up with certain political beliefs, and my home university was on the polar opposite end of the political spectrum. Four years of professors and other students telling me that I had to think a certain way didn’t change my opinions; it only made me hold onto them more stubbornly.
What really made me start to think more openly about perspectives that differed from my own was making friends with different backgrounds. Seeing and hearing about the way people live in other countries and observing how others deal with advantages or disadvantages that are different from mine has changed some of my beliefs.
Politics is only one example of something larger that I gained while I was abroad that can apply to all areas of life. I’m more willing to hear new perspectives than I used to be, and I think that has helped me become a more compassionate person and friend.
3) It boosted my creativity
If you want to be an artist, travel. That’s my best advice. So many of the great writers and artists of the past spent years living and working in other parts of the world.
I remember visiting Scotland for the first time and wanting nothing more than to just sit down and write. I was inspired by my surroundings in a way I had never experienced before.
I’ve seen landscapes that are vastly different from the ones in Minnesota. I’ve heard other languages and explored historical sites that photos can’t do justice to. Any art I create now, any story I write, will be much more layered because I can write about all the places I’ve visited with a genuine understanding of what it’s like to be there. Travel has given me a greater breadth of knowledge about the world.
When I was thinking about starting a blog, there was nothing else I could say so much about as my experiences with travel. So that’s the topic I chose. My writing ability is improving because of this blog, and I’m so grateful for that.
2) It uprooted me
I always used to be a homebody. I lived at home my last semester at my university in Minnesota, and I was much happier there than in the dorms away from my parents and siblings. In one of my classes, we talked about what we would do if we had six months to live. I said I would drop everything to spend time with my family.
So going all the way to England for five months stretched me way out of my comfort zone. I felt so out of place. Even people’s accents were different from what I was used to. I loved traveling and exploring new places, but I was very homesick. Even New York, on my way home, felt kind of alien. It wasn’t until I was back at MSP airport in Minneapolis with my family that I felt like my feet were back on solid ground again.
But I felt myself change after that experience. One of my study abroad friends thought that my answer to the “six months to live” question was strange; she said her first instinct would be to travel as much as possible.
Family is still important to me, but I’ve caught the travel bug now, just like she had. Since I got back from abroad, I’ve felt much more comfortable spending time away from home. On my month-long trip to the UK over Christmas, I wasn’t homesick at all. I know now what it means to be adventurous, independent, and self-reliant; it’s a good feeling.
1) It redefined my direction
Before studying abroad, I wanted a comfortable, static career at home in Minnesota. Towards the end of my semester in England, I gave up my plans of moving to Florida with my sister in order to take the stable, well-paying job I have right now. It was a hard decision, and at the time, I thought it meant that my adventures were over. But when I went to the UK a second time, it cemented my desire for mobility and change.
I still want to build a meaningful career that involves plenty of writing and editing, but I have other strong priorities now too. I want to live abroad; I want to travel in my free time. Those are some of the things that inspired me to start this blog, so I can keep my love of travel alive even when I’m at home.
My dreams are bigger and more globally minded than they used to be. I’m taking (slow but steady) steps to make my travel dreams a reality in the future. I know that the coming years will look a lot different for me because of my experience abroad than they would have if I had stayed to do my last semester of college in Minnesota and never saw the world. It’s kind of crazy to think about—how differently I thought about the future this time one year ago. But the future I dream of now makes me much more eager to see what’s to come.