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Opinion: Studying abroad is essential

By John Nitowski
On April 30, 2013

Now that my college career is ending, my friends are reflecting back on times when the world seemed like it was at our fingertips. I attended a banquet for the Asian American Cultural Center (AsACC) and its graduating seniors (I was invited for my involvement with China Care). During the procession of graduates they displayed little profiles for the seniors. The profile listed majors, hobbies and senior quotes, among other things. One category was called "What I wished I did with my time at UConn." By far the most common answer was "Study Abroad."
I don't remember writing an answer. But if I did, I also would have put "Study Abroad." As incredible as it sounds, I've been trying to leave the country for four years. One of the first colleges I applied to was Saint Louis University in Madrid. I was accepted and even had a 2,000 Euro scholarship.
I didn't take it. I don't remember why. Maybe my parents convinced me it was too early to be going so far from home. Rider University in New Jersey was already enough of a culture shock. Or maybe it was still too much money, even with the scholarship. Either way, I didn't go. But I visited the Rider Study Abroad office over the next few months and continuously looked for new places to travel. Spain was still at the top of my list, but I soon became interested in Korea, southeast Asia and Egypt.
When I started to ask about traveling to Egypt, my parents (who'd just been there) told me things were about to hit the fan. I insisted that nothing would happen. I could study and be fine. Of course, a month or so later, the Arab Spring erupted and most colleges were just trying to get their students back from Cairo. Egypt was out.
I ended up at Middlesex Community College in an effort to save some of the money I spent at the expensive, private, Rider University. Needless to say, community college didn't have a study abroad office. When I was accepted to UConn, my first trip was to the Study Abroad Office. Ever since that visit, I've been told I didn't talk to the right people, or I should've been more persistent. Regardless of what I should have done, I was so discouraged by the words, "Well, you can't go abroad with your curriculum. There's no point." That I began to consider taking a year off and just traveling on my own. I didn't know what I was doing with my life (I still don't). How can I be expected to make all of these adult decisions? I just wanted to see the world.
But I was convinced to stay in school sans interruptus. I switched my major about four times in a vain quest to figure out what a degree was for. Finally, I found my advisor after a semester and a half of wandering in academic limbo who told me that with my assembled credits, I could make an English degree much easier than any other. So that's how I wound up with this degree, and four years of hating a vast majority of my experiences in the Northeastern United States.
I told you that miserable story to basically end with this: get out. Leave. Go somewhere that will blow your mind. I eventually did get to Spain on Spring Break one year. For ten days, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. All that traveling did, however, whet my appetite for more adventure. More places. More culture. There is a big wide world out there and if you wait too long, focusing on your career, degree or arbitrary goals so often set by society and not inner will, then you will miss it.
I attended a seminar discussing Careers for the Common Good. There I met a woman who introduced me to the Japan Exchange Teaching program. I'm excited to begin my application to teach English in Japan, meanwhile a young woman asked an AmeriCorps representative if she would have to leave the state to help. She didn't like to be too far from home.
I bit my tongue on this one simple truth: the world is too big and too incredible to not see. And life is too short for degrees and daydreams. Go out. Travel. And don't let anyone stop you.

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