As an undergrad, I always dreamt of studying abroad for a semester. I would jealously scan through the hundreds of pictures on Facebook from friends who had studied abroad, seeing the amazing times they had all over the world, and with every click of the mouse, wishing I too, could travel as they were.
Due to my life as a Division I lacrosse player during my undergraduate career, taking a semester off to study abroad was impossible. We practiced and played year-round at school, meaning my summers were spent completing the internship hours I needed to graduate. Even after a recurring injury forced me to leave the sport I loved during second semester of my junior year, I knew I didn’t want to spend my senior year apart from my best friends (undeniably a case of FOMO).
With the culmination of my senior year, I made the decision that I wasn’t ready to leave school quite yet, and stayed an extra year for graduate school. Luck would have it that my grad school offered a study abroad program catered specifically to students obtaining their master’s degrees. Finally, with this program, I was given my chance to study abroad, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how great of an impact studying abroad would have on me as a professional and as an individual. In fact, after the experience, I think I got more out of my time abroad as a grad student than if I had studied abroad as an undergrad.
As a grad student, I had my professional goals generally figured out, though honestly not much more than I had as an undergrad. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in communications, but I had only a vague idea as to the industry I wanted to be in, where I wanted to live, or the work environment I would be best suited for. Like with every year in college however, I had matured, and I knew that now was my time to start creating the specific path that I would hope to follow post-graduation. With the pressure to create a meaningful plan for my future, I took in every moment during my time abroad and analyzed it for potential career influences—something I might not have done if I had been abroad as an undergrad.
My study abroad program was divided into two sessions: a two-week live-client consultation class, and an internship with a local company. As opposed to the work I would have done in a program as an undergrad, all my time and work was dedicated specifically to my degree and developing my skills within it. My skills as a marketer and communicator were challenged more than ever before (I continuously had to always remind myself it was in fact, all for a master’s degree) and I pushed myself to my academic limits. Instead of completing general education classes, I was getting real-life experience and, most importantly, analyzing my strengths and weaknesses and figuring out where I could apply them when I entered the real world.
My transformation abroad wasn’t just about being a professional, however. When I studied abroad, I was 22 years old. I had been able to drink legally in the States for a year, and I’d certainly had my fair share of living it up at my local college bars. When I got abroad however, being able to legally drink wasn’t as much of a big deal as it was to some of the undergrads that were studying at the same university. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had some fun nights, but I hadn’t gone abroad to go out every night. Instead, my grad friends and I often enjoyed our nights out exploring the town and finding great places to have a relaxing night. We did ghost tours, we drank wine on the university’s front lawn, and we stayed out late enjoying every bite of our dinner at local restaurants. I spent these nights laughing, exploring, and enjoying every moment of the amazing city I was living in. Instead of waking up unproductive and hungover (hangovers somehow get infinitely worse the day you turn 22, trust me), I was able to spend lazy mornings reflecting on my trip and where I stood as a personal and as a professional.
Studying abroad is an experience where you are tested as an academic and as an individual. How well can you adjust to living in a new culture completely unlike your own? How adaptable are you to learning from professors who may have teaching styles you aren’t used to? What about navigating a city you are completely unfamiliar with when you don’t speak the native language? There can definitely be trying times, but the learning opportunities are endless. As a grad student studying abroad, by the very nature of the level of degree you are pursuing, you are challenged more than you would be as an undergrad. You are more mature (hopefully!), understand the implications of the work you are doing, and see every experience abroad as an opportunity to further find the path you hope to pursue after graduation. It’s an amazing and enlightening experience. For that, studying abroad was by far the best decision I made during my time in school. I arrived back to my campus a changed personal and professional, and I was finally ready to take on my path that I developed for myself.
Carly Dell is the community manager for the innovative online program offered through Simmons College. In 2013, she spent the summer studying abroad at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. She has also spent time abroad volunteering in Southern Africa, an experience that will remain with her for the rest of her life. In her free time, Carly enjoys traveling, binge-watching HGTV, and finding New York City’s best French fries. Follow her on Twitter @carlydell2.