Why I Decided to Go Abroad (At the Last Minute)
“I’m not going abroad and that’s final.”
I’d said it to my mother a thousand times, a firm counter to her constant nagging that it would be a wonderful way to practice my Spanish, a great way to meet new people, and a smattering of other typically appealing clichés.
I’d said it to friends, to teachers, to coaches, to anyone who dared broach the topic with me. Some people just weren’t meant to go abroad. I wasn’t meant to go abroad.
I came to Wesleyan from California. Before college, my most independent experience consisted of two weeks away at a summer camp—a three-hour drive from my house. In my mind, going to school three thousand miles away meant embarking on quite the adventure, and adventure was good. I was fully aware that I had spent the past eighteen years living a sheltered, suburban life. I was ready for an adventure.
For the entirety of my freshman year, adventure came to me without much effort. I found myself swept up in the flurry of new people and housing and classes and a seemingly -endless stream of possible activities. Everything was new. And I relished it.
But then sophomore year rolled around. I moved uneventfully into a two-room double in Hewitt with a close friend, the exact living arrangement I had spent my freshman year hoping for. I enrolled in four seminar-style courses, the type of class that I always have found most appealing. I fell into a natural rhythm, balancing my track practices and schoolwork and sleep and sanity. The buzzword for my semester seemed to be comfortable. And that terrified me.
One crisp fall evening, I got dressed, met up with some friends, and headed off for a night out. I can’t recall exactly what we did. But I do remember that I was at ease in my friends’ presence, enjoying their company and the opportunity to spend the evening with them. My friends and I had spent many a night like this, and I was acutely aware of the fact that everything was natural, second-nature. And as I considered my effortless happiness, I realized that I had grown complacent.
Alarmed, I left the party I was at and returned to my dorm. I whipped out my laptop and began almost maniacally researching the study abroad programs outlined on Wesleyan’s website. They were novel and frightening and wonderful all at once. They were exactly what I was looking for.
I called my mother the next morning.
“Good morning, sweetie. Did you have a nice weekend?”
“Hi Mom. I’m going to go to Spain. Or maybe Argentina.”
I explained to her that I had let myself get too comfortable. That I had chosen a college strikingly similar to my small private high school, that I had the perfect close-knit group of friends, that I no longer was challenging myself emotionally. I needed to be uncomfortable, I told her. I needed to experience a different country, a different language, a different culture. I needed to be somewhere where I was totally out of place, where I was forced to push myself to adapt to a completely novel circumstance. How could I grow like I was supposed to in college if I let things come easily?
There was a pause. Then,
“You’re going abroad because you’re happy?”
Although she could not for a moment understand my reasoning, my mother, the person who had so wanted me to go abroad in the first place, remained fully supportive of my decision. And thus began the often trying process of meeting with various peers, professors, and advisors to make my last-minute study abroad dreams a reality.
I’ll be leaving for Madrid in five days. I’m terrified, and I’m excited that I’m terrified. No matter how many stories I hear, no matter how much literature or how many tourist articles I get my hands on, I know that when it comes down to it, I will have absolutely zero idea what to expect. Which, I realized, is exactly what I needed.