Coming into the McDermott program as a freshman, I remember my mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety about studying abroad. It sounded like a life-changing experience, as the upperclassman would occasionally enthrall us with extravagant stories about their adventures abroad, from getting lost in a jungle to surfing off the coast of Africa. I would think to myself: “Wow! I could never see future me doing that.” I began to feel some stress from worrying about planning an amazing study abroad experience, to the point where I sometimes felt like I didn’t even want to go. After all, there was so much to be done on campus, I told myself. There’s clubs to run, internships to get, classes to take, I don’t have time for this!
A few years passed, and early junior year, I was feeling satisfied with planning a one month winter study abroad in Japan. I had always wanted to visit the country, was taking a CV class about Anime, and would be travelling with a good friend, Andrew Vacarro, the whole time. It would be a nice trip, and then I could come back and focus on things at UTD. A combination of events convinced me to change my mind though. One of these was a passing conversation with an ‘02 scholar, Michael Seeligson, who encouraged me to study abroad for a longer period of time in order to grow and understand myself better rather than put up with short term problems while abroad. After some more reflection, I decided to apply for a spring exchange program with the University of Sheffield in Sheffield, England, and ended up spending 4 additional months abroad than originally planned.
Sheffield was an incredibly different experience from Japan. It was a new environment, with no friends or support system, and I found myself pretty stressed out in the beginning. I managed though, and was fortunate enough to encounter a pretty awesome group of people during orientation that (mostly) stuck together till the end.
Lots of things happened during that time, but I think some of the most valuable things I walked away with were the perspectives of people from so many different backgrounds and an increased sense of appreciation for my friends (seeing them during breaks definitely helped keep me sane). This was especially relevant during my spring break when I was able to travel around Europe, sometimes alone and sometimes meeting up with fellow McDermotts. While travelling alone was fun, as I had complete freedom with my schedule, I was surprised how much I looked forward to the next meetup, where I could be myself and really relax.
I’m not sure how many people will experience similar stress about studying abroad as I did, but I think it’s ok to struggle about it. It’s a big time commitment, with risk and rewards, and it’s important not to rush into a program to get the requirement over with. Your study abroad experience should be about you and what you want to do, and with an open mindset, you’re bound to have a great time.