The list below represents my thought process when I was deciding whether or not to go abroad one year ago. Just as my mind was, they are filled with pros and cons.
Stay at Wesleyan
-get even more comfortable at Wesleyan socially and academically
-remaining within a close distance of most of my friends and family
-missing an experience I had been wanting since high school
-letting an opportunity go to see the world and experience new things
-have (possibly) the time of my life meeting new people and seeing new places
-feeling adventurous and accomplished for taking a risk and leaving my comfort zone
-missing another semester at Wesleyan and interrupting the rhythm I had found
-being so far away from family and friends for a long period of time
For as long as I can remember, I have always been indecisive. It is a personal quality that sometimes gets in my way because even a little decision, maybe just where to go to for dinner, can become a chore. If something as trivial as choosing a restaurant can cause such inner conflict, imagine how I felt when I was deciding whether or not to study abroad.
My situation was a little more complicated than normal college students who are going through the same process because I had transferred to Wesleyan at the beginning of my sophomore year. With only having three semesters under my belt at the time I would leave, I felt strange about leaving school- like I would be uprooting myself yet again. I was still meeting new people, forming close friendships, and figuring out my academic path within a new Classics department. Wesleyan was finally starting to feel like home, so I was scared to disrupt the rhythm I had worked so hard to create. Missing one of my three final semesters of college felt like a huge sacrifice. If I left, would I ever feel completely at home at my school? Would I be disoriented when I got back?
In addition to deserting my life at Wesleyan, I would also have been leaving the safety net of my closest friends and family. It was a comfort knowing I was only an hour and a half from my childhood home. I got accustomed to seeing my family every few weeks, even if just for a short visit. After being a flight away freshman year, I enjoyed the proximity Wesleyan provided during my sophomore year and fall of junior year.
But of course, every tough decision has two appealing sides. Along with all the factors that were pushing me to stay, there were an equal number of factors pulling me to go. Studying abroad was something I had dreamed about since I started the college process. One of the statistics I looked for in all of my schools was what percentage of the student body studied abroad. I had also done a significant amount of traveling throughout Europe in my childhood and no matter the country, I envisioned myself as a college student there sitting in a café or wandering some tiny cobble-stoned street.
As my dream was starting to become reality, the scary parts of study abroad came into sharper focus. Still, the lure of traveling in Europe and meeting both American and non-American students tempted me. The thought crossed my mind that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. How could I let nerves stop me from doing something I knew deep down I truly wanted? And had wanted for a long time?
Part of the reason I am so indecisive is usually because both choices have huge up-sides. It wasn’t so much that I was choosing between the lesser of two evils, but that both staying at Wesleyan and going abroad were so enticing. No matter what, I would be picking a wonderful option. While trying to decide, I enlisted the advice of those who know me best. My family and friends would try and talk me through the pros and cons, but ultimately no one could make the decision for me. I could figure out what was best for me.
After months of putting pressure on myself, constantly flipping back and forth, all I could do was go with my gut. And my gut all along had been yelling “GO TO SCOTLAND!”
And I can honestly say it is the best decision I have ever made.
The stressful process in which I decided to go really helped me while I was abroad. I went in with the mentality of taking risks and actively making my decision the right one. I never passed up a weekend trip, I never said no to a dinner date, I never skipped a party in my flat. And I never kept quiet. I asked locals everything I could possibly think of about their daily lives and culture, their thoughts about the country, their thoughts about the United States. This is what made my time in Edinburgh so special: once I had committed to leaving Wesleyan and my safety net behind, there was no turning back. I remember thinking as my flight took off last January, “here we go.” And until the flight back to New York five months later, I never stopped going.
My semester in Scotland comprised the least indecisive period of time in my life. I never questioned my decisions because I knew taking advantage of any opportunity was always the right one. The study abroad experience, including the debate of whether or not to go in the first place, has completely changed the way I approach decision-making now. I trust my instincts. I am no longer hesitant towards the less comfortable option. Maybe that’s why I’ve been eating at the local Tibetan restaurant, and not the beloved Wesleyan pizza parlor. Whether decisions are on the small scale of picking a restaurant or uprooting for five months in a strange city, the principle behind them is the same. Bigger risk equals bigger reward. Thank you, Edinburgh, for proving that to me firsthand.
The box below represents how I view my decision now, one semester after I returned from study abroad. Notice there is only one box and all it contains are pros.
Hannah Bernard is a student at Wesleyan University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Edinburgh in 2013.