As I sit here writing this post, it has been six years to the day (we even departed on a Thursday) since I left for my ten week study abroad adventure in Oxford, England (thanks Chris for reminding me!). I was twenty-five years old and in my final year at Saddleback Community College. My friend had just dropped me off at LAX and I was mentally preparing myself to be on my own for the next few months. This was to be my first solo flight and I remember boarding that British Airways flight with a calm exuberance. Ten hours later, I had arrived at my destination, a little worse for wear, (I didn’t sleep the entire flight) but excited for what was to come.
Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number
At twenty-five, I was easily the oldest student on the trip by about four to five years. While that at times seemed to be a big gap to some, I felt happy with my status as the elder statesman of the group. I was in Oxford after all, so who cares?
I’m not sure at what point in my life I decided that I wanted to visit England, but I knew the moment I saw the poster advertising a study abroad trip in Oxford, that I had to do whatever it took to join in. Also, it probably had something to do with castles.
I hadn’t necessarily taken the straightest line to get to this point in my life. After spending close to seven years in and out of community college, while working full time, my decision to attend Saddleback was a chance at a fresh start. This was my first semester attending a new college (my third overall), as I had struggled with the English classes at the college closer to home. Reading online professor reviews, I made the decision to try out this new campus based on the positive comments students had left for several of the teachers there. It turned out to be great decision as both professors I encountered were amazing instructors. They made learning fun and were far more engaging than any I had previously encountered. As this was an English course based trip, I had to interview with the professor in charge and prove I would be a suitable fit. Fortunately, I passed, and then worked over the next several months to prepare myself for the trip.
Ask anyone who knows me, this trip was one of the best experiences of my life. Any opportunity I have to talk to someone about the trip, one of the nine countries I visited while abroad, or study trips in general, my face lights up. In fact, I have undoubtedly talked about it ad nauseam for the last six years with anyone who is willing to listen (similar to the way I talk about points and miles today).
My experience was absolutely phenomenal and it greatly accelerated my desire to travel, more so than I had previously considered. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and what I can handle. During my stay in Oxford, I lived with a family, referred to as a “Homestay” and they were a huge reason why I had the time of my life. With a place to call home, I felt comfortable going out to explore. I knew that I would have a home to come back to, no matter where my travels took me.
I was fortunate to visit multiple countries and experience different cultures and ways of life. It was invaluable to me as I learned a great deal. I said yes to whatever I possibly could (I never declined tea in England when offered and took every trip I could afford) doing my best to soak up every moment. Three of my closest friends even came out to visit with me and backpack for ten days together. Probably the one and only time we ever planned and executed a big trip as a group. Sleep was only at home or at the hostel/hotel I stayed at. That included multiple all nighters at airports and one long night in Prague. I kept myself awake on every road trips to take in the sights because I feared missing something I may not get to see again.
Why YOU Should Go
We live in an amazing age of technology where the world is interconnected. Yet, far too many people don’t get out there and experience it for themselves. Thoughts often revolve around money, and that’s a fair concern to have. But studying abroad is money well spent, especially when you factor in that it generally costs a similar amount to that of your regular education. For me, I took out student loans to cover the cost of the trip. It’s something that is readily available, should you choose to pursue this avenue. While having student debt is by no means a desirable outcome, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. Each of the eighteen other students on the trip and our professor hold a special place in my heart because they remain attached to the best of my memories.
The world is a big place and an easy way to explore it is through study abroad. Accommodations are handled for you. Excursions are an option and in some cases included (in my case, we had day trips to: Bath, Stonehenge, Stratford upon Avon, Warwick Castle and the optional trip to York – which everyone selected). My homestay family provided a place to sleep, as well as breakfast and dinner each day. Once I became comfortable with them and they with me, I was able to add in lunch too. They made me a part of the family and that meant so much.
Take the leap and make the choice to study abroad. Your experience will be well worth the time and money spent. Step outside your comfort zone and realize that money comes and goes, but the memories will last you a lifetime.
For even more insight on why you should study abroad, check out this awesome post by Expert Vagabond.