I knew I wanted to study abroad long before I entered college, but after an unexpected opportunity to spend the summer following my freshman year studying in Germany, I found myself contemplating a second study abroad experience, now with no idea where I might want to go. I spent months researching programs, and months more agonizing over whether I really wanted to spend a whole semester away from Rice. I finally committed, but I felt unsure about my decision even until the day before I left. But the second I landed my doubts faded. My semester ended up being cut short, much of my planned travel cancelled, but I still have no regrets. I just can't wait to go back.
Each of my study abroad experiences posed different challenges. My summer in Germany provided independence, but this also meant some degree of lonliness. It was my first time living on my own, managing my own schedule and meals, and travelling around multiple countries on my own. There were times I felt incredibly lonely, but I also learned so much about myself, and I have some of my fondest memories from this part of the experience-- from wandering around and getting to know the city of Leipzig, to stumbling into a communist protest in Frankfurt, to striking up a conversation with a stranger in a hostel that ended up lasting 6 hours. It gave me far more confidence in navigating the world independently. My spring in Salamanca, Spain, meanwhile, was far more structured, but posed a whole new set of challenges. While I had studied German for five years before heading to Leipzig, I only had a year of Spanish under my belt when I reached Spain, and the locals were far less forgiving of my accent and occasional English than the Germans had been. I spent the first few weeks constantly feeling confused, behind, and downright stupid. But the overwhelming crash course forced me not just to learn fast, but to overcome the anxiety that blocked me from even using the little bit of language I had. Even having to return two months early, my Spanish improved more than I had dared hope, and with what I had learned from my first study abroad, I stepped more outside of my comfort zone in forming friendships and travelling.
During both of my times abroad, I loved the friendships I formed in the everyday experiences. The most memorable parts of my travel were not the details of the tourist sites, but rather the ridiculous moments and ensuing laughter with the friends I'd made. For anyone considering studying abroad, I'd advise getting comfortable outside your comfort zone. Take advantage of and savor the everyday experiences. Be spontaneous. Start up conversations and get to know strangers. And don't be afraid of everything not fitting a plan. The most memorable moments happen outside of plans anyway.