Wolverines Abroad: Hard change is good change

Wednesday, October 3, 2018 - 6:26pm

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“My parents took me to Paris when I was 13 and the minute I saw the Eiffel Tower, I knew I was going to study abroad here, eventually.”

“My mom studied abroad in Spain, so I want to follow in her footsteps.”

“I’m trying to visit a new country every weekend. I’ve had this planned out since freshman year.”

None of these thoughts were going through my mind. To be completely honest, I didn’t submit my abroad application until the day it was due. My hesitancy to commit was a result of mixed emotions, an internal battle and parental and peer influences.

Growing up in Michigan, having some of my closest childhood friends follow me to the University of Michigan and being a short 45-minute drive from my parents all made my transition from high school to college smooth.  As much independence as college life provided me, I still felt like I was in my senior year of high school; I had the same friends, the same interests and the same need to text my mom every day. I consistently have had the comfort of entering a new space with at least one person with which I’m familiar. I haven’t been challenged to navigate a new place on my own or make an entirely new friend group. Some may think of this as a privilege, but to me I felt sheltered.  

Junior year came around and the talk of the campus was, as per usual, the question of whether people would be studying abroad. I knew I was behind my other classmates who had already filled out their applications. On the other hand, I was still making pro-con lists every day, having tense conversations with my parents, and spending hours opening and closing the Center for Global and Intercultural application page. I kept thinking: What do I want to do? What do others want me to do? My parents were anxious and uncomfortable with the thought of me living in another country for four months. In relation, none of the friends in my apartment were going abroad, so they eagerly started making exciting plans for next semester. Meanwhile, my mind was racing with opposite feelings: This would be an entirely unique experience. I’ve never left home before. I’m the type of person who needs this.

Despite these contrasting opinions, I still decided to research what programs would fit me best. The Danish Institute for Study Abroad seemed like a match made in heaven. I could get credit on my transcript, the classes seemed educationally engaging and I guess living in Copenhagen, Denmark, for four months is a perk as well. Step one was complete once I was able to convince my parents, ignore the external pressures and verify my beliefs about how a study abroad experience could benefit me.

Arriving in Copenhagen was an adventure itself. I truly didn’t know what I was getting myself into. However, the minute I stepped into my apartment and met my roommates, I felt a sense of belonging. These were my people and this was my place. It’s crazy how being in the right environment made me feel right at home so quickly.

The first day of class rolled around and, of course, I was nervous. Psychology classes with less than 20 people? Does that even exist? Where’s the graduate student instructor? My worries continued throughout the day into my developmental disorders class. The teacher went around the room and asked each of us to complete the sentence: “I’m the type of person who …” As it got to my turn, I just stated what was on my mind. I quietly said: “I’m the type of person who wouldn’t go abroad.” Everyone turned their heads with a puzzled look. I went on to explain I have lived a life of sameness without any drastic changes. I explained I’m not usually someone who would be confident in moving across the world for four months, meeting new friends and navigating a new city. This seemed to be a sufficient answer as everyone nodded and smiled.

However, at the end of the semester, our teacher asked us the same question with a twist. She wanted us to complete the following sentence: “After this semester, I’m now the type of person who …” I didn’t even have to hesitate. My answer was: “I’m now the type of person who would feel comfortable going abroad.” In other words, after befriending my new, amazing roommates, learning a new language, meeting Danes, figuring out how to bike and use the transportation in a new city, I truly felt like I could do anything. I gained more knowledge about the benefits of change and just how much I am capable of. The friends I made also pushed me to be my most confident and best self.

In conclusion, my decision to go abroad was not something that had been part of my life-long plan. It was more of a spontaneous reaction to my gut feelings. I’ve never been happier that I was able to put all other doubts and negative feelings aside. If there’s one thing I recommend, it is to push yourself out of your comfort zone. For those of you who are not sure whether you have the “right personality” or “are capable of such a dramatic change,” try not to let those thoughts affect your decision.

As much as jumping out of a plane or summiting a mountain can feel like being out of your comfort zone, nothing beats living in a new place, with new people, in a new culture and only letting yourself make the decision of whether to take advantage of these opportunities. By allowing myself to do what I wanted to do, in this case, something different, I eventually became the person I wanted to be.