How Studying Abroad Changed Me

How Studying Abroad Changed Me

I'll never be the same.
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"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world."

--Mary Anne Radmacher


I recently had a class assignment in which I was asked if I was the same person I was before I studied abroad. It confused me a bit, because I don't see how anyone could be unchanged after spending time immersed in another culture. I spent a semester in China, and it was incredible and difficult and scary and the best thing I have ever done.

It's been exactly a year since I arrived in China, and I can definitively say I am not the same. Sure, I'm back in the States now, and have basically picked up where I left off, but it's not the same. Something has changed; I've changed, even though it's hard to pinpoint how exactly.

Being in another country, surrounded by a culture that's not your own, one that feels foreign, one that's hard to understand, changes you. It changes the way you see things; there's no longer just one way of doing something. Not everyone eats pancakes for breakfast. Not everyone lives in a country where Christianity is considered the norm.

It changes the way you think about things. Not everyone thinks the same way you do, or feels the same way you do about things. Not everyone thinks communism is equivalent with Satan. Not everyone has the ability to say what they want, whenever they want. Not everyone has the same freedoms you have.

Studying abroad changes your perspective. It frees you from the bindings of a narrow life lived in a single place and allows you to see beyond the barriers of culture to other ways of being.

We take a lot for granted. We think we do things the right way, maybe the only way. That's not realistic, and it's just not true. The world has billions of people, and the majority of them do any number of things quite differently than you. They have different beliefs, different dreams, different priorities. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's actually an amazing thing. There are so many ways to be human, to be alive, and to do it well.

Studying abroad allows you to experience another facet of the potential of humanity, and I think that's how I've changed. I've gotten a small taste of how little I know, and I've been infected with a desire to learn as much as I can about cultures different than my own.

In short, I'm not the same since I studied abroad. I've changed for the better.



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To The Girl Struggling With Her Body Image

It's not about the size of your jeans, but the size of your heart, soul, and spirit.

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To the girl struggling with her body image,

You are more than the number on the scale. You are more than the number on your jeans and dresses. You are way more than the number of pounds you've gained or lost in whatever amount of time.

Weight is defined as the quantity of matter contained by a body or object. Weight does not define your self-worth, ambition or potential.

So many girls strive for validation through the various numbers associated with body image and it's really so sad seeing such beautiful, incredible women become discouraged over a few numbers that don't measure anything of true significance.

Yes, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself includes your mental health as well. Neglecting either your mental or physical health will inflict problems on the other. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that you're too heavy or too thin, which results in you possibly mistreating your body in some way.

Your body is your special, beautiful temple. It harbors all of your thoughts, feelings, characteristics, and ideas. Without it, you wouldn't be you. If you so wish to change it in a healthy way, then, by all means, go ahead. With that being said, don't make changes to impress or please someone else. You are the only person who is in charge of your body. No one else has the right to tell you whether or not your body is good enough. If you don't satisfy their standards, then you don't need that sort of negative influence in your life. That sort of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy in its own regard.

Do not hold back on things you love or want to do because of how you interpret your body. You are enough. You are more than enough. You are more than your exterior. You are your inner being, your spirit. A smile and confidence are the most beautiful things you can wear.

It's not about the size of your jeans. It's about the size of your mind and heart. Embrace your body, observe and adore every curve, bone and stretch mark. Wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own skin. Do your hair and makeup (or don't do either) to your heart's desire. Wear the crop top you've been eyeing up in that store window. Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body, simple.

So, as hard as it may seem sometimes, understand that the number on the scale doesn't measure the amount or significance of your contributions to this world. Just because that dress doesn't fit you like you had hoped doesn't mean that you're any less of a person.

Love your body, and your body will love you right back.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Margliotti

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My Future Is Unpredictable And That's Totally Alright

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations.

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For six months, I had plans to study abroad in the Dominican Republic during the fall semester of junior year. Filling out what seemed like endless applications and paperwork, searching for travel ideas on Pinterest, and writing a class research paper on the DR's relationship with its neighboring island, Haiti, I was prepared to live and learn about Dominican culture hands-on.

Then on the Thursday before Finals Week last spring, I read my email. My study abroad program in the DR had gotten canceled. In the span of 30 seconds, my future had taken a new course. Less than a week later, I was submitting papers to study abroad in a new country where another adventure awaited: Ecuador.

If there's anything I've learned in the past year, it's that life is unpredictable and we can't control it. The future is unknown. But-

Who wants to know exactly what's going to happen in the next few years? I mean, I believe it's good to have a direction, but you don't have to have the entire journey pinpointed straight to the core. You meet people, you get inspired, you see things, you have experiences. And you go from there. (Though, I totally respect people who have clear ambitions and stick with them their entire lives.)

Where I was a year ago was a completely different path than where I find myself today. Last summer, I worked four different internships/jobs in the span of three months. A year ago, I would never have guessed my following summer unfolding with an immersion trip to India, a solo adventure to Taiwan & Hong Kong, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. A year ago, I hadn't met half of my best friends. A year ago, I hadn't seen poverty in a third-world country. A year ago, I wasn't even sure I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.

Just because I don't know what the future holds doesn't mean I can't set goals. I have a destination, an idea of where I'm headed and where I want to go. While abroad in Ecuador, I want to learn about sustainable development and coffee production as well as enhance my Spanish skills.

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations. I know the format of the program. I'll be taking classes and living with a host family and then doing an internship at a farm. Otherwise, I have no idea what's going to happen. And that's what I'm looking forward to the most. The spontaneity. The unexpected. As one of my good friends would say whenever he doesn't have formal weekend plans, "I'm improvising." And you know the one rule of improv: Always say yes.

¡Hasta pronto, Ecuador!

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