Two weeks ago I was waking up in a Budapest hotel at 3:40 am – getting ready to travel back to the U.S. after 3 weeks in Europe. I can’t believe it has already been two weeks since my program came to an end.
Since I have been back, I have spent a lot of time going through photos from the trip as well as reflecting on the experiences I had abroad. Some of those are shared experiences with other students and faculty members and some are experiences I went through on my own. I wanted to take the time to share a few things I learned about travelling – and about myself – these last 3 weeks.
As I’ve mentioned previously, this was not my first go around at study abroad. But, this time I truly feel I was able to experience so much more. I had more time to explore these cities because I wasn’t working a 9-to-5 internship. One thing I will say is travelling to five cities in a span of three weeks is a little bit hectic. Those long travel days can really take a toll – but don’t let the exhaustion keep you from taking full advantage of your opportunities. I would encourage you – regardless of how tired or worn out you may be throughout the trip – to power through it and always find something new to do. You don’t want to look back and regret the time you spent sleeping or taking naps or just being held up in the room.
Out of the 21 days on my trip, there was one where I stayed at our lodge the entire time and caught up on work (aka I wasted time scrolling through social media and watching Netflix). There were so many days I was exhausted but I knew I didn’t want to look back and regret not doing the things I wanted. Not everyone has the opportunity to experience study abroad – don’t waste yours.
When I say take full advantage of your opportunity, I don’t necessarily mean that you need to go on some wild, strenuous adventure every single day. It could just mean simply spending time outside or walking around a city – you can find so many hidden gems and see things you may have missed on a guided tour.
One of my favorite memories of my trip: I was in Prague and a small group of us wanted to spend the afternoon paddle boating on the river. We walked everywhere that day to get to the center of the city and then to the water. We ended up at this park area near the river, sitting out in the sun just chatting with one another. The paddle boating didn’t happen but, still, something as simple as that has become a standout moment from my trip.
And maybe that moment stands out more because of the group of people I was with at the time – as I have already discussed, the connections you make with others are really going to help determine the outcome of your experiences. Make sure you find people that you really mesh with and know will want to explore and embark on mini and grand adventures with you.
One thing I definitely began to notice is people will form “cliques” and I too am guilty of this. Looking back, I wish I would’ve broken out of that mindset sooner and spent more time building relationships and spending time with various groups of people. Naturally, you are going to gravitate toward people you already know because it is more comfortable, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to get to know others better.
I should’ve attempted to go on more adventures with people outside of my cohort or who weren’t my roommates. I really didn’t begin doing this until the end of our trip, and there were various undergraduate students who I really got along with and could relate too. I should’ve formed those relationships sooner so that I had more of an opportunity to spend time with and get to know different people.
Something I’ve learned about people: Sometimes being in a big group all the time poses a problem. I consider myself very social and outgoing – I love to be around others. But even I needed time alone so I didn’t completely snap. I think I may have snapped at one point, but I did an OK job of not fully exploding. I definitely learned the importance of being more self-aware and really knowing what it is that you need.
Self-care is so important. As much as you want to create shared experiences with other people and not miss out, sometimes it is just better to go at it alone. I definitely needed more time to myself, especially toward the end. I have great memories that I created in group settings, but I do wish I would have done even more just for me and created more memories that really made me happy on an individual level.
Overall, I think any time you travel it poses a situation for you to learn things about others as well as yourself. I know there are many people who never get the chance to go abroad and I have now had two different study abroad experiences. I am so grateful to be in that position and I always encourage others to go abroad if they have the opportunity. You may come back with things you wish you had done differently, but I think that is completely normal. I know there are things I wish I could change, but it is hard to do everything you want on a 3-week trip.
All experiences are going to come with ups and downs, but I think that no matter what, the positives always out-weight the negatives. Study abroad is always always always worth it. If I could do it again I 100 percent would.
Chandler Alford is pursuing a master’s degree in communication. This summer she traveled on a faculty-led program to Barcelona, Grindelwald, Munich, Prague and Budapest.