I should start by saying that my study abroad program this past summer was all that was promised: culturally enlightening, academically enriching, and truly the travel opportunity of a lifetime. I spent a month sharing a room with a German law student. I toured nearly all of the European Union and German federal government institutions. I witnessed the knowledge of brilliant professors from all over the world, and spent my weekends traveling to beautifully scenic and historic European hot spots. I checked off every box on what is to be expected from studying abroad. While I am incredibly grateful for these experiences, there are definitely more subtle aspects that made this opportunity so special to me. The bigger yet perhaps seemingly mundane takeaways and experiences you didn’t have the chance or the time to tell people about when they casually asked you, “how was (insert country of study abroad program here?”. These were the things I believe had a more distinct impact on me.
For instance, this being my first time in Europe, I expected to be shocked by European culture and the German lifestyle, but what I was more struck by was being put into a position that made me confront the differences that exist within my own country. The program I participated in included both IU and USC students. Sitting in a classroom with students representing various regions of the U.S. and adding in German students as well, really revealed to me how many different issues were faced and perspectives were taken even among people residing within the same country, and how that affected perceptions of U.S. outsiders as well. The mixture of universities, nationalities, and, thus, wide varieties of perspectives in this program, made for an incredibly opportune experience to reflect on how I identified within my own culture and what it really meant to be an American.
Another element of this experience that I really appreciated was the reassurance of self I found along the way. Not knowing anyone going on this trip beforehand, never having traveled alone, not speaking the languages of the countries I would be visiting, etc. all seemed like really daunting tests of my adult survival skills at first. However, after successfully managing a couple of planes, trains, and taxis to get to my destination, I began to see those anxiety-provoking tests as challenges and I openly welcomed them. Navigating public transportation in unknown languages – check. Making amazing new friends out of complete strangers- check. Overcoming language barriers and picking up some German phrases along the way – check. Again, these were all seemingly small accomplishments, but they really added up to a truly empowering experience and gave me a reassurance that I am capable of adapting, learning, and thriving regardless of where I end up and who I’m surrounded by. This was an invaluable lesson that would certainly carry with me as I prepared myself to graduate and enter the real world soon.
And lastly, and perhaps more than anything, I am thankful for all of the people and personalities that I came across. I had the pleasure of being surrounded by intelligent and adventurous people that created so many learning moments for me, which I think is something that is entirely unique to the environment created in a study abroad experience.