I always thought it was a clear cut decision. To go on study abroad. From anyone else who had done it, it was the adventure of a lifetime. But there are other people who simply don’t want to go. By the time you are a junior, you are comfortable with a group of friends, extracurriculars, etc. College is short enough. For me, my college was right by where I grew up, and the transition was almost too seamless. That’s why I needed to take the adventure.
My fall semester in Hong Kong was amazing. But here we are, before the spring semester, which will leads us to another difficult decision: to spend another semester away in Switzerland. One that - to be honest - leaves me doubting myself. Especially after hearing cynicism from negative nancy’s. I hope that organizing my thoughts and justifying my reasons re-convinces me that this is the right thing to do.
Classes: we ought to start a ‘study abroad’ talking about learning, right? Before I even went to Hong Kong, I considered graduating in 3 years. I could do it with a manageable amount of work each semester, but I wanted to enjoy my time. I figured that going abroad (taking a few classes I needed) would help balance that and let me graduate on time. (Also, my core classes follow a sequence and I already took the class I need for the spring in the fall.)
To learn outside of the classroom: I guess I am a bit of an awkward person. People have pointed it out to me before. It comes with being a nerd. I can accept that - and I’m working on it. I feel as though I have more freedom to experiment and be in situations that have no other choice when I’m somewhere less comfortable than home.
You only live once: like I said, I grew up around the same area most of my life. At some point, I just caught the travel bug. I heard of crazy/wonderful/unexpected stories that always happened in some faraway land, and I wanted some of those stories to tell too. I definitely got a few already from Hong Kong. And also, how many more chances do you have in your life to travel so much? Once you have a full time job, you can’t go on long excursions. And as a student, you can often get 1/2-price discounts!
Restlessness: I am the modern-day nomad. I don’t like being in one place too long. I like seeing the world. I like trying new things - not eating at the same place week after week. I like not having a routine. Others may argue that a place is defined by the friends you have there, but I would rather have friends all over the world.
The people who say ‘join a tour group’: it isn’t about sightseeing. In fact, I really don’t enjoy sightseeing (and I REALLY don’t enjoy tour groups). I’m interested in learning about cultures around the world. You cannot see that through tourist attractions. Only slowly, by being one of them. In fact, I hope my adulthood/career sends me to far away places so I can take in the experience again. Meanwhile, this international exposure is good for me, especially in this increasingly global market.
Being gone for such a long time: it makes you disconnected from everyone. The only way I can really keep in touch with people is face-to-face. Anything meaningful is easily lost in the interwebs. Having conversations across time zones is a pain. People back home are sleeping 50% of the time you are awake. Without doubt, I made some great friends in Hong Kong, but time will tell if they can last. While meeting people is nice, I kind of miss having deeper, more meaningful friends.
Preparing for a career: Junior year is crunch time for a lot of people. Preparations for graduate school, medical school, so on. It is a good time to stick with a lab so you can publish a paper by the time you graduate. The professors are probably going to write you letters of recommendation. The things you’ve done most recently are more important than the things you’ve done farther in the past. This gets to me the most.
Being ahead: I think this point is moot. It’s trying to attain the impossible. My university is filled with people who would disagree with me on this. At some point, I realized that it is not a race. You have to enjoy the journey. If I don’t change my lifestyle now, I might just get stuck in a job I hate.
Why one isn’t enough: I picked Hong Kong and Switzerland in particular to juxtapose. Hong Kong is the East, and Switzerland is the West. Hong Kong is an urban, concrete jungle, and Switzerland is the ‘countryside’ with the Alps. Hong Kong is a business center, and Switzerland is a place to solve global problems.
There are always those people who disagree. You just have to believe in yourself enough to do it. To quote the wise Professor Langer about his early career,
“And, to be blunt, that was depressing. I was depressed and sad about it because I believed in what I was doing, but I was probably the only person that did. I tried to tell myself that, ‘well, things will work out okay,’ because now it’s easy to look back, and I know that it did work out okay. But certainly at the time, when almost everybody was telling me that I would never make it…”
Originally posted on halfwayaroundtheworld.studentsgoneglobal.com.