As a mechanical engineering major and varsity athlete at Tufts University, I did not think studying abroad was going to be an option for me, despite the fact that it had always been something I wanted to do. Between my coursework from engineering and the demands of lacrosse, I did not know how I could possibly be away from campus for an entire semester, nor if I wanted to. Therefore, I pretty much gave up on the idea that I would ever be able to study abroad. Despite the jealously I felt when I heard about my classmates’ trips, I just did not think it could be an option for me.
This all changed one day over winter break when I was catching up with a friend from high school. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, she learned of an opportunity with a program called Semester at Sea. This program offered students the opportunity to study abroad with over five hundred other college students on an old cruise ship converted into a floating university.
This opportunity stood out to her because she too had not thought studying abroad would be an option. She was involved in many different things at school from her sorority to her course work, and also could not imagine missing a semester at school. However, this program was offered during the summer and would not require either of us to miss out on our commitments at our respective universities.
One thing led to another and before we knew it, it was June 15th and we were boarding the ship that would be our home for the next two months. I felt a mix of emotions from excitement to uncertainty. While I knew it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, I could never have imagined the experiences I would have in the following two months.
I rode a camel through the Moroccan desert. I visited ancient ruins in Turkey. I relaxed on the beaches of the Greek Isles. I wandered through the narrow streets of Florence. I rowed through beautiful caves in Malta. I stood atop the Eiffel Tower for its breathtaking midnight light show. I strolled through the seemingly endless markets in Barcelona. I watched the Portuguese compete with the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifying match.
I had so many amazing experiences that I would not trade for anything; however, my time abroad was about more than just the places I visited. It was about the friendships I formed traveling with people I barely knew. It was about the cultures I was exposed to that I never knew existed. It was about the spontaneity of my adventures and the beauty I saw.
The friendships I formed throughout this experience were unlike any I had before. While I had my friend from home, we knew that traveling alone was not nearly as safe or as fun as traveling in a larger group. Therefore, we always looked for other people to go with us on our adventures. I had never been in a situation where I got to know people so quickly, nor do I know if I ever will. You are experiencing completely new places together, and this creates a bond unlike many others. After traveling with someone for even a short time, a complete stranger can turn into a close friend.
Each stop on our journey brought a new city with new people with different cultures. While I‘d learned about many cultures in various classes throughout my schooling, experiencing these cultures firsthand provided insight that cannot be read from a book. Whether it was experiencing the astonishing gender inequality in Morocco or awe-inspiring ceiling of Sistine Chapel, the trip provided me with a range of cultural experiences that I could have never imagined.
My experience abroad will likely be one of the things I remember most about my time as an undergraduate, yet it was almost an experience I did not have. I almost convinced myself it could not be an option for me. I did not make studying abroad a priority and I implore others to learn from my mistake. I promise you, it will not be a decision you regret.
About the author: Emily Wright is currently enrolled as an undergraduate at Tufts University and works as a marketing associate at Argopoint, a management-consulting firm.
Thank you Emily for your valuable contribution: The Benefits of Studying Abroad
Daniel & David