I’m one of those kids who lived in the same house all his life before college. My parents settled down in South Atlanta shortly before I was born, perhaps because they loved the sound of planes landing and taking off from the world’s busiest airport, or maybe it was the dysfunctional Clayton County school system.
I make it sound a lot worse than it really was. I had a great, happy childhood and was perfectly content living there, but as I started applying to colleges, my view of the universe began to expand. I realized the great possibilities beyond the familiar bubble I called home.
College has given me the opportunity to experience more in the past three years than I could have ever imagined. Of course there’s the typical “going to college” stuff: I met a bunch of awesome friends, learned how to live on my own, figured out a way to balance partying with studying (still working on that, actually) and got involved in really cool things that I’m genuinely passionate about.
But for me, the “x-factor” of my college experience has been international travel through study abroad programs. I went on my first study abroad the summer after my freshman year, hopping on a plane to Asia literally a day after my last final. Throughout the summer, I studied the political economy of East Asia, traveling through multiple countries with classes in unconventional places like a plastics factory, a bus or a boat.
While I gained valuable information in class, my best memories are of wandering through different locales sampling the local cuisine, bargaining for a trinket or two and soaking in different cultures that are so strikingly dissimilar to American culture.
I live for those chaotic, packed streets where I can feel the city living and breathing all around me. I also live for the quiet serenity of ancient temples and breathtaking scenery that makes me marvel at how diverse our world truly is.
When I got home after almost two and a half months, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I’ve got to do this again.” And so I did.
This past summer I decided to blow all my co-op money on a three-month study abroad program based in France, and much like my Asia experience, it was worth every penny. Over the course of the summer I visited 15 different countries, pretty adequately covering most of Western Europe and a chunk of Central and Eastern Europe.
The experience was completely different—in fact, I can’t even compare the two because it’s like comparing a croissant to a pineapple. They share few commonalities except that they are both tasty. The architecture pretty much everywhere in Europe caused me to utter more than my fair share of “oohs” and “ahs” as I hopped from country to country.
After getting back from my three-month adventure in Europe, it did indeed feel great to be home; however, I felt like I was having a reverse culture shock where all things familiar suddenly felt very strange.
I think I’ve come down with a case of wanderlust, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as “a very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.” Suddenly my view of the universe exploded yet again. I have this strong desire to keep moving and never stop seeing, doing and learning.
I definitely view that as a positive quality. I feel that international experience lends not only a broader perspective to the traveler while on the road, but also a heightened sense of the nuances of everyday life that might have been taken for granted before.
Hopefully, a summer or two from now I plan to study abroad once more before I leave Tech. I’ve realized that I’m incredibly lucky to attend such a well-connected university with campuses and partnership programs around the world.
I can’t do my experiences justice on paper. It’s just one of those things that you have to go see, eat and do for yourself.
It’s not a small world, after all. There’s more to see than you can ever imagine. Studying abroad is a great way to start an adventure, one that I hope will never end.