Staff Opinion: Why you should study abroad for a year
There is something very strange about feeling like you have a lot of “homes.” For many, that means their college home and their family home. For me it’s Portland, Oregon; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Salzburg, Austria.
It hurts to miss a place so much, but I’m here to tell you it is 100% worth it.
Last year, I spent eight months living in the most beautiful country, traveling nearly every weekend and creating memories of a lifetime with the most incredible people who became my best friends and by the end, family.
I studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria through University of Portland’s year-long program my sophomore year. You should, too.
Studying abroad for any amount of time will do amazing things for you. You will learn more about yourself and about the world. The longer you go, the more beneficial it is.
In my year abroad, I traveled to 12 countries, while some others in my program traveled to upwards of 20 and others much less. But it was not the number of countries that mattered — it was the memories created.
While a big bonus of studying abroad for a year is all the time to do weekend travel, some of my favorite memories were made in the center or in our “homebase” of Salzburg.
Having picnics along the river by Old Town, playing volleyball at the park down the street, trying our best to speak to the little Austrian kids next door or talking about the American snacks we missed as we shoveled down far too many bags of Bugles, Milka bars and Haribo gummies in every shape. Those are some of my most cherished memories.
Being there for such a long period of time, even though it flies by faster than you could imagine, allows you to fully live your life there. You feel the ups and the downs and every feeling that comes with life.
But you don’t experience any of it alone. You are surrounded by people who love you and understand you like no one else will. That’s what happens when you live, eat every meal, study and have class with the same people. Friendships are created extremely fast and they just get better as the year goes on.
They become your family, and the city becomes your home. I can’t put into words how much those friendships and that city will mean to you.
Besides learning about yourself, you learn so much about other perspectives. Austria was in the middle of a big election season while I was there. Issues like immigration were contested like they are in the U.S. However, the context was different. They were discussing the refugee crisis and whether Austria should continue to be this hub for refugees or not.
I knew very little about the refugee crisis in Europe before going abroad. I was able to see things first hand through campaign posters and humans rights campaigns as I walked to the grocery store. With my handy Google Translate app, I was able to translate signs to know what was going on in the country I called home.
I learned about European history from an Austrian perspective. I learned about World War II through seeing the little gold plaques that marked the homes of Jews who were killed; from the chunk out of the side of a building in Salzburg where a U.S. tank had hit; from a gut-wrenching visit to Mauthausen where thousands were killed only about an hour away from the city we lived in; from visiting cities that were completely rebuilt after the war; as well as ones that, instead of rebuilding, turned their ruins into restaurants, bars and clubs.
The things I read about in books or learned in class became real and tangible. You cannot recreate those experiences in movies or books, you have to live them.
When you have to leave at the end of the year, it's going to be hard. Harder than you will anticipate. It felt like I was leaving behind a big part of myself when I got on that long plane ride home. It took a couple months for it all to sink in.
Honestly, I am still struggling with it. But as one of my best friends said to me a couple weeks ago, it is good that you are sad and it is good that it hurts because that means it was important and that it mattered.
It certainly mattered. It was the most formative time in my life so far. I remember before I got on the first plane, I was terrified. I thought to myself a year is way too long, I am going to miss out on things at UP. I have great friends at UP. Why would I mess with something that was good?
All those thoughts melted away after a day at the center. I would have been happy to stay for another year after that.
Every pain I have felt since coming back — the tears shed, the feeling of bricks on my chest when I see a picture, the simultaneous rush of dread and joy that I get when Snapchat reminds me where I was a year ago — they have all been worth it.
All those things do not hold a candle to the amount of happiness, love, sense of belonging, adventure, and warm and fuzzy feelings I packed into those eight months.
I would do it all over again.
So, to those of you who are scared or think a year seems like an eternity: make the leap. It will be nothing like you expect, surprise you in every way, be nearly indescribable, nothing short of incredible and without a doubt the best decision you will ever make.
Delaney Vetter is Opinion Editor at The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.