From time to time I’m asked to do interviews about my travel or study abroad experiences. In the past I’ve been bad about sharing those here on VirtualWayfarer. These interviews surface a different side of my travel experience and offer me a chance to offer advice through a slightly different lens. As a result, I’ll aim to be better about linking to the most content rich of these interviews when I do them. The latest of which was an invitation to weigh in on why people should study abroad while simultaneously sharing my own study abroad story. I’ve re-produced the first two questions in the Q&A here. Make sure to click over to Wandering Educators for the full interview.
What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
My story is fairly complex. As a kid, my parents homeschooled my brother and I in place of 5th and 7th grade. 5th grade was spent backpacking Europe. 7th grade was spent in a 32-foot 5th-wheel trailer as we took a year and drove across the United States. I did my first study abroad the summer of my Freshman year of College. I was incredibly nervous despite the childhood trips. It was a 6.5 week Honors study abroad program in the British Isles. I debated doing a full semester or year and really wanted to, but could never work up the nerve. The summer program ended up being a great experience. Despite loving it and really flexing my travel muscle, I still never quite worked up the courage over the remaining 3 years of my BA to do a full semester or year abroad.
When I graduated, I turned around and tossed caution to the wind. After 4 years of being worried about doing a solo semester abroad, I closed my eyes and jumped into a 3 month solo trip through Europe. I figured it was now or never. It was amazing. I returned to a full-time job in Mergers and Acquisitions, where I managed two 16-21 day trips a year for the next 3 years. Then, tired of Arizona and eager to return for a Master’s, I applied to a number of schools selected based purely on reputation, the appeal of their location, and if they had a communication program. My methodology? A list of the top 50 Universities in the world and an afternoon of research. I ended up with 8 Universities split between 4 PhD programs (trying to skip the MA) and 4 MA programs. Of these, 3 were in Europe. All of the PhDs rejected me and the MA decision came down to Georgetown in D.C. or the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Georgetown wanted $30k in tuition a year. University of Copenhagen offered me a complete tuition waiver…as well as a 2 year visa to live in and explore Europe. The opportunity to do what I hadn’t had the nerve to do previously was too enticing to resist (and that tuition waiver helped).
Despite having only spent 2 days in Denmark during a trip the year before, I relocated figuring I’d see what happened and give it a go. It was one of the best and most pivotal decisions of my life.
What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
It was incredible. I had a lot of international friends, international roommates, and had traveled extensively. So, I thought I knew what the experience was like. I had no clue. There were moments that were profoundly humbling and difficult, but the vast majority were exciting, social, engaging, and they fostered in me an internalized self-confidence that is impossible to get elsewhere. It was 26 months before I returned home for the first time (family met up abroad during that period). When I met with one of my mentors, one of his comments resonated with me. He said I seemed more at ease with myself. At first, I was slightly put off – but then I realized he was spot on. It was a powerful and wonderful process that was a lot of fun. There were setbacks – like accidentally buying 2 kilos of beets, thinking they were sweet potatoes – but in the end I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Denmark, learned an enormous amount about myself, about my own country, and am a much richer person.
…the interview continues on the Wandering Educators blog. Head on over and see the full interview.