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Well-Traveled: Why You Should Study Abroad

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Studying abroad in London through IFSA was my first time traveling to Europe. Before this January, I only left the country once before. I knew my time abroad was going to be transformative – as someone with incredibly limited experience traveling, studying abroad is the perfect environment to explore the world. But what if you have already had the chance to travel? For Eliza, a close friend I made through my program, it was around her two-hundredth time visiting Europe. Her father is French, and Eliza is a French-American dual citizen, so she often flies here with her family during the summer. Eliza and I come from very different travel-centric backgrounds, but both of us have grown exponentially because of our time in London. By asking Eliza questions, I want to show how no matter one’s exposure to travel, studying abroad is always going to be a transformative experience that will help shape who we become after college. 

What did you learn about yourself in London that you didn’t know before? 

 Eliza’s response: I learned how to have more self-confidence. Before, I always traveled with my parents, and I didn’t have to rely on myself to get places. Honestly, I always figured that it was beyond my abilities. In London, I had to work through transportation, find grocery stores, figure out museums, and map places, so I now trust myself and my own abilities to successfully travel through cities. London taught me how to pay attention to the little details, and I often found myself exploring little street markets, vintage stores, parks, and walking along the River Thames all by myself. That kind of confidence is invaluable. 

 What made this study abroad experience different from the other times you have traveled to Europe? Eliza’s response: It was completely different because I was surrounded by peers my age, peers who had varying degrees of exposure to the same European cities that I have traveled to so often with my family. In a way, I was able to experience these cities all over again, from different viewpoints and through the perspectives of my new friends. My own experiences were expanded by my friends’ thoughts, opinions, and observations on daily life in London. The study abroad experience brought together people and created a community that I have not had when I have traveled before.  

Do you think this study abroad experience changed the way you perceive yourself as a student, or influenced the type of career you might have, in a way other travel experiences have not? Eliza’s response: Definitely. IFSA London made me realize that I value a global perspective, in a setting with a diverse group of colleagues and peers. After attending a couple of public talks at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I realized that I was intensely passionate about International Relations, a field in which I could use my European background. It made me reevaluate the classes I was taking at my home institution, and I really think I will be looking back at this semester to guide my future educational choices. 

 Is there anything you can say to students that might feel like studying abroad isn’t going to change them in a significant way? Eliza’s response: Traveling by yourself is such a different experience than traveling with family, or well-known friends. You are putting your trust in a group of strangers, in a country that you are unfamiliar with. You will begin to see the world through a new lens, learning from a group of people you would have otherwise never met. If you are on the fence, and even if you have traveled to every country in the world, trust me – do it.  

Eliza became my closest friend in the program, and I learned so much from her prior experience. Even though I knew next to nothing about Europe, or international travel, I know that she gained new perspectives from me as well. If you are like me, completely inexperienced and nervous about taking that major step by yourself, try and find your own Eliza. And if you are like Eliza, knowledgeable about traveling, try to find yourself a Sydney. You might just learn something new, or at least gain a close friend in the process.

Sydney Jacobs is a student at Grinnell College and studied abroad with IFSA through the IFSA Study in London Program. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.