I sat down to write about my travel regrets and realized I only have one: I never studied abroad when I was in college.
Studying abroad is the annual ritual for thousands of college students. They travel all over the world to get away from home, experience something new, take classes overseas, meet new people, and party in foreign lands. Most American students seem to flock toward Europe, where cheap transportation makes weekend trips to exotic cities easy.
When I was in college, I never caught the study abroad bug. At that point in my life, I wasn’t big into traveling. Studying abroad sounded cool, but it also sounded like a tedious administrative process — and I was lazy. I liked my campus life; it was easy. Forms and paperwork got in the way of sleeping late, four-day weekends, and fraternity events.
But what really held me back was a single idea that seems to hold most others back, too. It’s the belief that something might be missed while studying abroad. What would happen if I left home? What changes would happen with my friends? What parties would I miss? What gossip? What if there was some big event at school and I wasn’t there? What if the President came? What if this? What if that?
With all those “what ifs” in my head, I never went abroad because I never wanted to miss something. I didn’t know what that “something” was, but I knew I wasn’t going to miss it. But I was naive in that thinking. I never realized that studying abroad would mean new memories, new friends, and new adventures. I was too tied to the fear in my mind to let myself go.
Flash forward to 2006, when I went driving with my friend Mike. We were discussing how I was about to leave for my round-the-world trip.
“I wonder what life will be like when I come back?” I asked him.
“Nothing will change,” he said. “It will be the exact same as when you left.”
“How so? I’ll be gone for a year!” I retorted. “A year is a long time. Something will happen.”
“Matt,” he said to me, “when I went to England to study abroad, I thought the same thing. But when I came back, everyone was still doing the same thing, studying the same thing, acting the same way. It was as though I had never left. I melted right back in. It will be the same for you, too.”
In the end, Mike was right. I came back 18 months later and life was still the same. My friends had the same jobs, had the same hobbies, and went to the same bars. I hadn’t missed any earth-shattering events. Life had continued on exactly the same way it always had in my absence. In a way, it felt as though those 18 months away had never really happened. My old life was there as if frozen in time, just waiting for my return.
And it was then that I realized I had made a huge mistake by never studying abroad.
I missed out on an opportunity that only comes along once in your life. That semester abroad was taken away from me by my own unfounded fears. Now, I regret that I let fear keep me from experiencing life overseas. Who knows what kinds of experiences I might have had studying abroad, what friends I would have made, or how my impression of travel might be different had I started at a younger age. I robbed myself of an opportunity because I was too scared to leave my comfort zone.
I know many college students read my blog. I know because I receive emails from students all the time. This post is for all the students out there who are afraid to take a chance.
To you, I say, go study abroad! Don’t worry about what you might miss back home. Your friends will still be your friends, the parties will still be there, and campus life won’t change. You don’t need to be home to learn all the juicy gossip. You can do that on Facebook. Do the Foo Fighters coming for a concert compare to exploring all the gelato restaurants in Florence? Would you trade weekends on the beach in Australia just so you can be there to learn that a friend made a fool of himself at a party?
I know from experience that you are missing out on more by staying on campus than by going overseas. This is your chance to live abroad and have most of your expenses paid for you. This is your shot at seeing if you like the world outside your borders in relative comfort and safety.
Don’t be nervous. Don’t let that fear hold you back. You’ll still be in the school safety bubble… just at a different school. There will be many other students just as nervous as you, too. It will be something to bond over. Moreover, if you really don’t like it, you can always come home.
But don’t be like me — filled with a lifetime of regret simply because you were too afraid of what might have been.