It's that time of year: Friends and acquaintances have returned from other nations with stories to tell and souvenirs to share. Nearly 70 percent of UR students study abroad, so reasonably, I am often asked if/when/where I've studied abroad, and, after I reveal my disinterest in doing it, why I chose not to.
When I first came to UR, I was sure I would. I attended a high school that emphasized international studies, and was fortunate to be able to study Japanese, German, Chinese and Spanish to varying degrees there. For my first two years here, I continued my study of Japanese, and enjoyed every minute of it. I read intensely about life in Japan, including several books by Americans living there. But then something changed: I lost interest.
I can't really pinpoint why or exactly when I decided studying abroad wasn't for me, but it happened during my sophomore year. As I shifted from pre-med to majoring in journalism, I began to question myself. Would studying abroad be for me? Would I gain anything from it? Was it worth it?
I feel I should stress now: I'm not bashing study abroad. For some students, it's an extremely enriching time spent honing their language skills and/or broadening their worldviews. For other students, it's months to spend drinking, partying or laying on beaches. Whatever the experience, nearly everyone I've met who studied abroad had a strong motivation to do so. I didn't.
What I did have were doubts. First, I didn't have a place to go. After I stopped studying Japanese, in my mind there wasn't any logical study abroad program for me to apply to. Second, and even more important, I didn't really have a reason to study abroad. I'm not currently studying a language (though I hope I will again), and I don't plan to go into foreign reporting, so it made little sense for me. That doesn't mean that I don't want to travel internationally; I don't have a passport now, but I plan to slip out of this country someday. But personally, I'd rather my first international experience not involve sitting in classrooms like I do here.
To be frank, I also don't think I would enjoy studying abroad very much right now. Applying for internships and the ever-looming hunt for a career weigh on my thoughts now, and being somewhere else won't make those worries go away. I'm also certain that maturity and wisdom will make my overseas sojourns much more rewarding in the end.
Please, take advantage of the UR Office of International Education if you want. We are blessed to have such opportunities at this college, and I don't want to demean them. But if it's just not your thing, don't let any peer pressure get to you. It may be a cheesy maxim, but education really is a lifelong process. Just because you choose to learn something a little later doesn't make it any less worthwhile.