I’ve studied abroad. A lot. I started as a London first year, and I’ve kept going almost non-stop. I’ve taken travel seminars to Cuba and Paris, and then I spent two more semesters abroad, first in Madrid, and then in Copenhagen. I’ve spent some time contemplating why I spent so much time abroad, and I think I’ve come up with an answer more satisfying than “because I can.” I studied abroad to search out that which is not in front of me. I have an insatiable desire to see what’s over that next hill, or, in my case, what’s down that next street. Be it a cast iron plaque from 1753 or a dimly-lit corridor next to an old prison or an accordion player who is really committed to his job or a lifelong friend, I need to go and see it. And after I see what there is to be seen, I need to see what’s over that next hill. The adventure, the discovery, the unexpected, all drove me to study abroad.
Of course, I also have specific reasons beyond my sense of adventure. I went to Spain to speak Spanish. That seems obvious, but it meant a lot to me at the time. To be thrown into a language, head-first. I’d taken Spanish classes for years, but there is no substitute for immersion. I came out of Spain speaking Spanish better than I ever had before, and that stays with me. Copenhagen was more about the program; reading Russian literature and then spending a week in St. Petersburg, walking the same streets as Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov; learning about the history of polar discoveries and then going to Svalbard to do some polar exploring of our own; learning about Nordic mythology and then looking at ancient Icelandic texts ourselves. Paris: it was a writing seminar, so I got to pretend to be Ernest Hemingway while working toward my English capstone. Cuba: to see a place that has been mythologized and demonized for the past half-century as close to the truth as I could get. And finally, London: I went to London my first semester because it sounded a lot more interesting than starting out at Skidmore.
So what about you? Why do you want to go abroad? I’m assuming you do, if you’re reading this. Do you want to have an adventure? Leapfrog from country to country, seeing people and architecture and old cobbled streets that you’ve never seen before? Do you want to get away from small town Saratoga Springs for some metropolitan capitol? Do you want to go the other way, out into the field, visiting rural communities or tropical rainforests? Do you want to do research on your own in a completely foreign culture? Or maybe get some professional experience in a different culture? Would you like a fresh global perspective to help you understand your place as a citizen of your country and the world? Or do you just want to eat some really good food? All of these are perfectly valid reasons for studying abroad. And once you understand just why you want to go, you’re well on your way to choosing where and when. Look to your motivations and let them guide you.