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Studying Abroad as a Sophomore

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I’ve always been predictable. From what I eat for dinner to where I sit in my university’s library, familiarity makes my world run smoothly. I could give you a million examples of how often I find my daily life entrenched in routine. And, most importantly, the one decision that completely changed that.
No one was more surprised than I was at the spur-of-the-moment decision I made to study abroad last fall. I was a sophomore. I’d never even mentioned a desire to go abroad. And I decided to go a mere week before my school’s application was due. Suffice it to say that I was a bit frazzled getting my ducks back into a familiar row.
While I can’t tell you what compelled this ‘by the books’ gal to pack up her life and move 4,000 miles away, I can tell you what compels me because of that decision:

What nobody tells you about going abroad:

  • You get to have two full years back at your home university afterwards. I had no worries about missing out on what was going on back home; I knew I still had half of college to get back into the swing of things
  • You can learn from your peers. My two closest friends in Scotland, Katie and Rachel, were both juniors while I was a sophomore. It was so refreshing to have influential women in my life who I could not only experience Edinburgh with, but also rely on for their experience and advice, both abroad and at home. Back in the States, most of my friends were my own age, and having the opportunity to talk through the college experience with others who had been going through school longer than I was completely amazing. We came together despite our age differences, united by our Scottish adventure. The most “delicious” benefit to my friends was in regard to meals. I had never cooked for myself before, so the thought of having to prepare my own meals at first was a little scary. Katie and Rachel had lived and cooked for themselves back home, so if the mess of grocery shopping and chopping ever got to be too much for me, I could pop over to Rachel’s flat for whatever delicious meal she’d concocted.
  • You have more flexibility when it comes to coursework. My university has certain ‘Block’ course requirements, the standard general electives. Because I went abroad as a sophomore, I was able to take three classes in British History, rather than in my major, Biology, all without getting behind. I got to fully immerse myself in the culture of Scotland, both past and present, all while fulfilling the courses I needed to graduate from my home university anyway. After all, if a STEM student needs to take history classes, why not take them where history was written?
  • You get to be a resource. Now, as a junior, several of my friends are deciding to take the leap and head abroad. I’ve had the unique opportunity to tell them what it was like, to advise them to bring waterproof shoes and to keep a journal so they forget nothing. I have two whole years to spread the word about the life you can find if you step outside your comfort zone.

That being said…

You can ask anyone what it’s ‘really like’ to study abroad, but at the end of the day, the experience is really what you choose to make it. I had a bit more growing up to do than some of my older peers, but to have had the opportunity to gain life experience in Scotland made it all the more meaningful to me.
Don’t study abroad if you don’t want it to change your life. Because it will. I’ll never be the same, now that I’ve lived in Scotland, hiked through the Highlands, traveled internationally alone, and seen what it truly means to take a leap of faith, and find out where you land.
Thanks to study abroad, I’ve gained a strength I didn’t know I had, and a confidence in my ability to chase my dreams, no matter how crazy they might seem. I’ve gained a new sense of independence and freedom, knowing I can and have survived on my own. I didn’t prepare emotionally go to abroad. I just went. And that made all the difference.

I truly believe that the decision to study abroad changed my life more than I could have imagined. And I’ve changed my mind about following the same path you’ve always been on.  If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that impulsive decisions can bring you to some of your happiest days. Don’t be afraid to experience life, even if it means on a slightly different timeline than those around you. It’s your life, and your timeline, after all.
Abby Kucera is a biology major at the University of Tulsa and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in Spring 2016.