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Study Abroad: It's Much More Than Just Parties and Passport Stamps

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Most college students can attest to having read the token “Why You Should Go Abroad” article, dispensing all the reasons why spending four months in a foreign country is the ultimate college experience. These articles are rampant on Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other outlets that feature a quick read about some student’s expat experience.
Most of these articles merely focus on the superficial aspects of adventures abroad—the legal drinking age, the independence, the cheap travel. But, when looked at from a more wholesome perspective, studying abroad is truly a complicated experience that cannot always be properly defined within a short, bulleted article such as the ones we consume from entertaining media outlets or personal blogs.
Making the decision to go abroad to Florence, Italy, was one that required a lot of deliberation. I was not sure whether I’d be able to be away from my family for four months; I’d always been a homebody. I was also understandably worried about packing a suitcase correctly, about maintaining control of my passport, and of course, about financing the trip.

Image courtesy of Monmouth University Study Abroad
Image courtesy of Monmouth University Study Abroad

Very few college students make the decision to go abroad, often because of financial reasons or because it cannot fit in their schedule. Additionally, some students may not want to miss out on what’s going on during a semester on campus. Despite all of this, each and every student should at the very least try to submerge themselves in some type experiential education credit— whether that is a summer break trip, a full semester trip, or a shorter service trip. And it’s impossible to really understand why until a few months after the ordeal, when you’re back home in your bedroom, mourning the fact that you’re not wandering the cobbled streets of an ancient foreign city.
Having said that, the experience of leaving home for many months is not always an easy one – I can honestly admit to having been a little homesick and overwhelmed during the first month I spent in Florence. I called my mother a lot, worried I would never be able to feel comfortable within Italian culture. I never had service on my phone unless I was connected to the wifi in my apartment, so I got lost often. Although it was terrifying in the moment, this ended up helping me gain a better sense of direction and independence. Small experiences like this, though seemingly ordinary, are what contributed to a new sense of freedom and self-reliance that I don’t think I would have found had I not lived abroad.
Image courtesy of Kelli Galayda
Image courtesy of Kelli Galayda

Angela Ramos, a former study abroad student at the University who also went to Florence, can further attest to the ways that the experience can be a life-changing one. “As cliche as it sounds, studying abroad was one of the greatest experiences of my entire college career,” Ramos said. “The pre-planning is hard, but my time abroad opened my eyes to the size of the world and how beautiful it can be.”
Besides the obvious reasons why studying abroad can be beneficial for students – like learning a new language, opening one’s mind to new cultural traditions and histories, and understanding one’s relatively small place in the world – it is also largely beneficial on an emotional level. Nearly every study abroad student I’ve talked with has said that they felt the experience changed them on an intimate and personal level, whether in terms of maturity, open-mindedness, or an overall sense of independence.
So, if you really want to know what makes studying abroad as amazing as everyone says it is, your best option is to go and find out for yourself.