On Making the Decision to Study Abroad
When I was first looking into colleges, I ignored anything having to do with studying abroad. I knew I wasn’t interested – not because I didn’t think it would be valuable, but because I thought, I’m spending so much time and energy figuring out where I should live and study for four years of my life – why spend an eighth of my time in college not even there?
I’ve since changed my mind, and this is the story of the moment when I first felt my opinion shifting. But first, a caveat: Studying abroad is not for everyone, and I think that’s totally and completely valid. Sometimes I’ll ask acquaintances if they’re planning to study abroad, and when they say no, it’s almost as if they say it guiltily, as if they have to justify their rationale to me. While Kenyon’s off-campus study program provides an amazing opportunity to expand the realm of one’s education, there are also equally amazing reasons to spend four years here. I know how much I’ll miss Kenyon when I’m gone, and I thoroughly understand the decision not to go abroad, especially because I was initially not planning on doing so. With that said, I want to share what made me decide that studying abroad was something I was interested in pursuing.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I went on a school trip to Europe. It was my first time leaving the country, and I had spent the previous two years saving up babysitting, tutoring and birthday money to be able to go, but the prospect was made extra special by the fact that my creative writing teacher (an experienced traveler) was leading the trip, and one of my best friends also was going. We went to London, Paris and Venice; after the official trip ended, my teacher, my friend and I went to Florence – just the three of us.
When we were there, we took a day trip to Lucca, a small Tuscan town, where we met the Barsotti family, a family that my teacher met years ago when she was traveling. The Barsottis were a traditionally large Italian family – three brothers, their wives, and their kids – and they were unbelievably kind to us. We’d spent the past week and a half being shepherded around cities by guides, snapping photos out the windows of tour buses, and eating at restaurants that could accommodate large groups. There was something so different about seeing a place through the eyes of people who lived there. The brothers took us on a bike ride around the city, and then we went to one of their homes to meet their wives and children for a delicious, homemade Italian lunch.
One of the brothers had a little girl who was about seven or eight. As soon as we walked inside, it was clear she was so excited to meet us, even though she didn’t speak any English, and we didn’t speak any Italian. Nonetheless, she was determined. She grabbed me by the hand and showed me a book with pictures of hundreds of animals. She would point to a picture and say the name of the animal in Italian; I would repeat the Italian and then say the name in English. We spent so long teaching each other names of animals in our respective languages. Later, she showed us a video of her performing with her dance class – they danced to a popular American song, and we laughed as we sang the English lyrics together.
This was my favorite day of the entire trip. Sitting on the floor having so much fun with a child whose language I didn’t even speak, I realized how easy it could be to communicate. I realized how comfortable I could be in a house so far away from anywhere I considered home. In that moment, I knew that I wanted more experiences like these – experiences reflective of the fact that regardless of our differences, we are all people, despite the border lines that may serve to separate us – and that I could find these experiences from a study-abroad program.
Next fall, instead of returning to Gambier, I will be traveling to Stockholm, where I’ll be studying for the semester. I am so excited (and nervous) to experience a new school, not to mention a new country, new people, new culture and a new language. Being away from Kenyon will be difficult, but I feel that this choice – while not right for everyone – is right for me.