Breaking Out of the American Bubble

While reading USA Today’s article about whether American students truly get out of their comfort zone during study abroad trips, several things stuck out to me.

First, I was again struck by the fact that I am extremely privileged to be going back to Europe this spring. The author observed that more and more students are studying abroad as opportunities become more accessible – much like higher education to students a couple decades ago. While I never would have seen it this way because of my limited perspective, thinking about that makes me all the more grateful to be traveling across the world not once, but twice in my college career.

U.S. Passport
The premise of the article also made me reevaluate my two-week experience in Europe this past summer. I never got homesick while in Europe, but I now realize I was never truly uncomfortable with my surroundings. Of all the experiences I could have had anywhere in the world, almost nothing could be more “comfortable” than traveling to Western Europe for only two weeks with 20 American friends. This is not to say that my experience as a part of the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program is any less valuable; it was a fantastic introduction to traveling overseas. Not only did it invigorate my interest in and love for traveling, but knowing what sorts of things to invest myself in will help me make the most out of my time abroad this spring.
I have already completed an assignment about my expectations for next semester, but I knew that much of what I stand to gain is quite abstract and unpredictable. One of those things that I could not quite put my finger on before is the experience of being truly pushed completely out of my comfort zone. I never had the opportunity to travel alone, but this spring I will be spending several days in Ireland by myself. Everywhere I traveled, most inhabitants spoke at least some English and I understood bits and pieces of their languages; this spring I will have the chance to visit Austria, The Netherlands, and potentially other countries in Central Europe where I might not have that luxury.
“Students [are often] busy posting pictures when they should be taking them.”
This quote also hit me hard. It caused me to wonder if I am missing out compared to someone studying or working in a third world country who has no or little access to technology. I am determined not to waste 4.5 hours (or anywhere close to that!) each night online as mentioned in the article, but I know there will be a temptation to focus on sharing about my experiences as they happen rather than concentrating on whatever comes next.  With the group of students and the faculty I am traveling with, however, I know engaging one another in conversation and interesting activities will not be a problem, so it should not be difficult to keep myself occupied.

Have you traveled abroad? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now? Feel free to share any input or experiences in the comments!

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