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Thursday, May 23, 2024

A view from an apartment room window is photographed in Florence, Italy. 

A post-studying abroad reflection

They say studying abroad will change who you are — but can it really?

“Studying abroad changes your life” and “study abroad will change you” are two phrases I repeatedly heard from people in my life before departing for my semester overseas. 

It’s true the decision to leave your college behind and attend school in a new country can create a step towards self-growth. But do these statements apply to everyone? 

Four months later, after everything I have experienced and learned during my time abroad, I still don’t have an exact answer. Everyone who decides to study abroad — whether for one semester, one summer or one year — has their individual plans, desires and goals. Is it expected that everyone choosing to live abroad changes in some way? 

To answer this difficult question: I believe it depends on how one utilizes their experience as a student living in another country. 

I chose to enroll in a small program catered to American study abroad students. With about 300 students per semester, my program focused on supporting each student’s personal experience. I appreciated the tight-knit, inclusive outreach the program provides and preferred my newfound community’s genuinity, making it one of the many contributions to my personal growth during this period of my college years. 

Being an international student in a smaller European city has its various ups and downs. It’s quite similar to attending a university with a small- or medium-sized campus where you’re likely to see the same familiar faces. The American students here stand out like a sore thumb, typically in ways that don’t represent us well. From observation alone, I have seen the two extremes of American college students studying abroad in Europe: the ones who make it worthwhile and the ones who do not. 

Based on my own observations, those that truly care about this experience attend class. These students adjust to a new weekly schedule and form a consistent, yet fun and open-ended, daily routine. Or, they make an effort to form a relationship with their professors despite only having the class twice a week. 

Those who don’t really care about the logistical side of study abroad are the ones skipping class repeatedly or boasting about the numerous upscale clubs they went out to in the past few nights. They aren’t connected with the place they chose to study, choosing to go abroad for its social aspects. For them, it’s simply time to excessively vacation around foreign countries. 

I also believe there is one constant factor present in most college students’ lives that affects how many view the concept of studying abroad: social media. 

Thanks to social media, there is a heightened sense of glamor around the concept of study abroad. To many, studying abroad can include taking luxurious trips to a different country every weekend, partying at a fancy club, cliff-jumping in Malta or participating in a life-changing, adventurous activity like riding motorcycles in Morocco’s deserts. Many, including myself, go into study abroad enticed by the idea of traveling somewhere new every single weekend. 

Unfortunately, traveling in Europe isn’t as cheap as assumed. Studying abroad, especially coming on your own, comes with many tough obstacles: planning, budgeting and generally expanding your comfort zone. While this perception of taking stress-free excursions on top of taking classes may be the reality for some, this isn’t for everyone. Studying abroad comes with its own baggage of navigating a new familiarity and avoiding the social media rabbit hole of glamourising study abroad. 

I came into this semester with an overwhelming amount of expectations and must-dos. I must travel to as many countries as possible. I need to explore the entirety of the city I’m studying in. I have to try this restaurant and order a specific meal from this random TikTok video I viewed. 

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Comparing myself to others, I developed a false perception of how I should spend my semester. At first, the slightly harsh reality of what it actually is like studying abroad hit me like a slap in the face. 

But when I shifted my perspective, I began to form an experience of my own without relying on the influences of other students, social media or following an agenda. Finding out more about yourself is an ultimate achievement, especially while studying abroad for one semester or year. It helps you find or reshape your values, and it creates new opportunities for your future. What you learn in different moments and what you discover about yourself depends on how you spend your time. 

This doesn’t mean you have to move overseas for several months to encounter this drastic change people claim happens. Studying abroad isn’t for everyone, especially because it can be academically unavailable and overly expensive. It can be daunting for some, given how long you’re separated from home. Taking on a semester of college in a completely new environment isn’t easy, and it’s not the picture-perfect moment that’s portrayed on social media. 

I have looked back on who I was before leaving the United States and who I am now as this semester is slowly coming to a close. After a lot of deep reflection, I don’t believe studying abroad for a semester entirely changed who I am. 

I believe studying abroad changed how I see the world around me and how I see my own future. This spring, I learned about the importances of self-prioritization and connecting with your environment, two things I wouldn’t have learned as well if I hadn’t decided to study in Europe. 

Does this mean I changed as a person? Was it due to studying abroad? Studying abroad can lead young people along a successful path towards self-discovery. The idea that studying abroad alone will change you depends on how you spend it. 

Lauren Aguila is a junior studying journalism. Do you agree studying abroad can change your identity and perspectives? Send all comments to

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Lauren Aguila

Lauren Aguila is a current photographer and writer for The Daily Cardinal. You can check out her work on Instagram at @shot.sbylaguila.

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