Discover Yourself Abroad

By Kristiane Sonnenberg

According to the University of Utah’s Office for Global Engagement, 687 students studied abroad in 42 countries during the 2016-2017 academic year. The Learning Abroad office connects students to programs that vary in duration, location and field of study. Students can study in London for six weeks with the “The London Eye: The City as Performance” program, or they can live in Tuscany for a semester with the “Architecture, Design, and Planning” program or countless others. Study abroad programs offer the advantages of getting credit for traveling, having well-defined goals for what students will learn and taking much of the burden of logistical planning off of individual students. I loved my own Spanish language intensive study abroad in Spain because it let me finish two advanced language courses, helped me explore Spanish culture through planned group outings and gave me a place to live in Spain for six weeks.

If you are considering studying abroad, allow me to give you one piece of advice: make time to travel by yourself. Depending on how long your program is and whether it is faculty-led, this could be somewhat difficult. The trouble is worth it, however, because the greatest benefits of studying abroad do not come in the form of class credits or even improved language skills. The moments of introspection and self-knowledge that come from traveling in an unfamiliar place by yourself will have a far longer lasting impact. I remember a lot of my classes in Spain because they were right up my alley, but I have more vivid memories of walking by myself into the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and crying in awe. Though there were hundreds of people there with me, I had no friends, classmates or family there to question why I was crying. With no one to explain it to, I could look around and sob with joy without feeling the need to stifle my reaction. That intense moment of recognizing my own smallness in the face of such intense beauty helped me redefine my relationship to the natural world and art. It would not have been the same if I was on a class trip with defined goals of learning about the architectural structure and symbolism of the building. Traveling by myself without an educational agenda created an organic space where I could learn about myself and my relationship with the world.

That all sounds very hippy and happy-go-lucky. Traveling alone can be hard and it is a significant financial investment. Not everyone will have a life-changing experience, and that is okay. The important thing is to go outside your comfort zone and put yourself in an unstructured environment where you can learn about yourself. Traveling alone is a great way to do that. If you have the opportunity to build individual travel time into a study abroad program, take advantage of it. There’s nothing better than experiencing some heavy-duty introspection while getting class credit.

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