A High School Semester Abroad Is Your Best Preparation For College

A High School Semester Abroad Is Your Best Preparation For College

How my high school semester abroad prepared me better for college than high school itself could have

Whether you hate high school or absolutely love it, there comes a time in those four years when most students realize that they may need a break from the chaos. For me, that was the middle of my freshman year. Don't get me wrong, I loved almost every aspect of high school, but came about December of freshman year, I decided to apply to The Traveling School.

This semester abroad program gave me the opportunity to spend my first semester of sophomore year embarking on a four-month journey where I would be traveling through Southeast Africa while learning. Inevitably, I extracted a few lessons from those four months which my high school failed to teach, and many of them have become important as a college freshman.

Here is a list of the 5 lessons that I believe have made the greatest impact on freshman year, while some are obvious and somewhat cliche, others are slightly more complex.

1. Living Away From Home

The main and quite obvious lesson that I extracted out of my semester abroad would be the ability to live away from home. As many people did, I chose the mainstream high school path- attending a school that I could commute to every day, allowing me to sleep at my own house. Therefore, my semester abroad was the first time I got to experience the uncomfortable, tough, and honestly awkward act of living away from home for a decent amount of time. There I learned that while you will always have your true home, other homes can come and go, proving that home is can be simply a mindset and not always a place. Freshman year, that lesson reminds you that your home will always be where you grew up, or where family resides, but college gives you the chance to create a new home also so it is worth a chance.

2. Self Management

It is difficult to learn self-management when you have others constantly micro-managing you, whether it's teachers, parents, or friends, and once you arrive at college, you do not always have those resources to guide you. Participating in a semester abroad in high school teaches you how to live without that support, placing you in an environment that forces you to figure things out on your own, which is exactly what you have to do in college.

3. Vulnerability

High school was somewhat like a bed of roses- there were obviously some 'thorns' here and there in the awkward stages of those four years, but you felt comfortable in the 'soft petals' of the school with the routine environments and the familiar faces. With that said, life is not a bed of roses and it is important to be pushed outside of your comfort zone, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. By attending a semester abroad, I was at the epitome of being outside my comfort zone. I was vulnerable to making mistakes in front of unknown people, getting lost in a foreign country and vulnerable to the dangers of traveling abroad. However, it taught me that some of the best experiences and moments in life can come out of vulnerable episodes, like your freshman year in college, where you are stepping over your line of comfort.

4. Confidence

By allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you are ultimately gaining a sense of self-confidence. My high school taught many great lessons, but confidence was not one of them, so most of the confidence that I have today stems directly from my friends, and mostly from my semester abroad. When you have a sense of confidence, you form your own mannerisms, you make your own decisions, and you are independent. Essentially, you make yourself your own person, capable of doing things by yourself, and in college, it is important to have confidence in all aspects of your life, whether it be socially, academically, or just personally.

5. The World is Huge

Whether you lived in a large city or in a small hometown, everyone naturally forms a small community during high school. The typical high school community can be defined as your family, your friends, your acquaintances, and those people who you just know of. Little did I know before attending my semester abroad, the world expands far beyond my bubble of a community. Those four months abroad illustrated to me that there are not only so many intriguing people outside my previous community, but many more unique places, fascinating sights, diverse foods, etc. When beginning freshman year, remembering that the world stretches way beyond my high school community gave me a sense of comfort. It urged me to want to experience a new environment, encouraging me to take in all aspects of this new environment.

Cover Image Credit: Kat Nein

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2. Realizing that all your time will now be spent studying in the library.

3. Being jealous of your friends with non-science majors, but then remembering that your job security/availability after graduation makes the stress a little more bearable.

4. Having to accept the harsh reality that your days of making A's on every assignment are now over.

5. When you're asked to share your answer and why you chose it with the whole class.

6. Forgetting one item in a "select all that apply" question, therefore losing all of its points.

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Saying "No" Is OK

It is okay to put yourself first and do what's best for you


It's that time of year again when your days are filled with nothing but class, work, assignments, clubs, extracurricular activities and much more. Your time and brain are going in every possible direction. But what if it didn't have to be that way? What if letting go, actually gave you something back? That's right, I am talking about the word no and all it can do for you.

I too, fall into the trap of doing more is better. Having all my time devoted to activities or work is good for me. Taking nineteen plus credits hours somehow makes me a better person, even smarter person. Well, I hate to break it you, and me, that this thought process is extremely detrimental.

There are no rules that say we must do everything and anything. If there are, they are wrong. And that's why saying no is so important.

Currently, I am taking nineteen credit hours. Soon, I am going to make sure that it is sixteen. After the first week of classes, I discovered I was in a class that would provide me with a wonderful education, but it was not counting towards my major. After thinking about it long and hard, I decided that it would be best to say no to this particular class.

Before this year, I would have said, it's okay (even if it wasn't) and muster through the class. To the old me, dropping a class would be like quitting, but I cannot even begin to tell you, and me, how far from the truth that is.

Saying no is brave. Saying no is the right thing to do. Saying no allows you to excel in other areas. Because I have decided to say no, I am opening two more hours in my day. I am relieving myself of work and projects that would add to my already hectic schedule. I am doing what is best for me.

However, there is a part two to this no phenomenon. Continuing with my example, I now have two open hours in my week. The overachiever in me would try to find something to fill it. Maybe another club or activity. Maybe more hours at work or a place to volunteer. And while none of these are bad things to do or have in your life, you are just replacing a time taker with another. When you say no, mean it and don't fill it.

This is your year to say no. Not because you are lazy. Not because you aren't smart enough. Not because you can't. Say no because it is best for you. Say no because it frees you. Say no because you can!

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