I think the biggest thing I wish I had realized coming into college is that it isn’t always a bad idea to study abroad early, especially if you’re smart about it. It’s just something everyone has to decide for themselves. Coming into the program, I thought I was too young, too inexperienced, too dependent on those around me to manage going abroad on my own within my first two years of college. I was totally wrong. My first semester on campus I definitely wasn’t ready to go abroad alone, and I don’t think I was ready this semester either. I was too new to being on my own and too stressed to handle studying abroad. But those first two semesters change students so much, especially with the courses GEFs are required to take. My world view has expanded exponentially (largely due to the courses I’ve taken), and my self-confidence has increased dramatically. I have grown and changed so much from the overly-excited/terrified/homesick high school student I was when I arrived that I’m not sure that version of me would recognize who I have become. When I started planning my trips abroad I felt like everything was too soon; I wasn’t going to be ready as a person by the time the trip began, no matter how far back I pushed it. As a Chemistry major, this was a really bad way to look at things. STEM majors have so little flexibility in their course plans and so few courses that can really be equated from other schools that waiting until my junior year to take a semester abroad (which is my current plan) is going to make my life much, much harder.
This isn’t to say that studying abroad later is always a bad idea either; I simply wish I had considered the option of going abroad earlier in my college career when I first joined the program.
Now, as I’m preparing to take my short trip to Italy over the summer, I know that I’m as ready as I can be with no prior experience abroad. I’ll be going with an OU program, which I think is a good fit for me. It will let me “get my feet wet” abroad in a setting where I can get help easily, and I’m even staying after the program ends to travel on my own. I plan to make this trip and come back without any regrets for going to early or too late.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I let way too many crazy emotions color my decisions my first few months at school. If I could do it again, I would go talk to more advisors – to Jaci and Ms. Vincent and the advisors for the countries I am interested in. I would talk to other GEFs who have already traveled or made plans to do so, and I would stay open to more ideas and more options. Studying abroad is a huge process, and you have to start planning so far in advance that it’s easy to wait too long out of fear that you’re not ready to go. But talking to people who have gone abroad already can help in many ways, and keeping in mind that you likely won’t be exactly the same person from the time you start your application to the time you get on the plane to leave really helps keep things in perspective.