"Abroad changed me."

It's the cliche, all-encompassing, slightly asshole-ish phrase that any student returning from a study abroad experience is bound to let slip at least once. As ironic and annoying as it may sound, especially when repeated 100 times, it's definitely not false. However, I believe it best gets its point across when modified slightly.

The one slight correction that can be made to this statement is the word "changed". I know for a fact that my study abroad experience opened my eyes to new cultures, new perspectives, and new possibilities. I was able to branch out and pursue areas of interest I had never imagined. However, I am still me. I did not morph into a new person or lose anything I once had before I boarded that plane. If anything the correct phrase (although not grammatically proper) should be "Abroad grew me". The path I followed in my experience, every twist, turn, and bump that hit me along the journey, helped me to become something more of myself.

My problem-solving, communication and overall interpersonal skills have become so much stronger than those which I left JFK Airport within early September. All of this combined, my confidence has grown tenfold. In terms of my self-confidence, I have never felt more validated or reassured of who I am, what my values are, and what I want out of this life. All of these things are due to the situation I was put into, but I would not call them changes. Because the word "change" insinuates I never had any of these skills or characteristics before.

Being brave, for example, is not something I typically would label myself as. But when you are lost in the streets of Morocco, frantically running in circles to find a blue building (in what is known as the "Blue City") when your bus is leaving in under 5 minutes, the act of going up to a complete stranger and getting your Spanish to somehow coincide with their Arabic is not just a show of bravery, but a necessity. It is how you survive. Although I quickly learned that after a few too many travel fiascos, I also came to realize how much better life can become when you let this bravery into other aspects of your life - not just the emergencies. The little parts like trying new foods, volunteering to make a fool of yourself and flamenco dance, stopping at the street corner to converse with the woman selling flowers, these are the small things that shaped my entire experience. And these are the biggest things that helped me to grow. This bravery was something that I always had, just never to the extent at which I tapped into during my time abroad.

Yes, coming back from studying abroad I feel like the world around me and my normal life have changed. I never could have expected it to stand still just because I was absent. However, I do not feel that I have "changed" from who I was before. A desire for a challenge is what led me to go abroad in the first place and I am extremely blessed to be able to say that my wish was fulfilled. With each new experience, I expanded my horizons, and piece by piece I watched myself morph into what I would now call a confident and well-rounded individual. This growth has brought me to where I am today, but it is only the starting point on my adventure to further explore cultures, the world, and where my place is in it all.