By: Kelsie Miller
Study Site: University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
July – November 2011
I am fascinated with the interconnectedness of people’s lives. Maybe that’s why I love traveling so much or why I wanted to study abroad in the first place. I love knowing people, knowing their story, and how their story is somehow intertwined with mine. As a traveler you have the opportunity to meet so many new, like-minded, and diverse people. It is up to you to make meaningful connections. As a student in an unfamiliar country, you put yourself in the perfect environment to do just that. The more conversations you initiate and the more you explore, the smaller the world becomes.
Travelers make best friends out of perfect strangers. We lose ourselves so we can find ourselves. We step outside of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves so that we can grow and change in ways we never imaged. We put ourselves in unfamiliar situations in which our true character shines through. We live out our dreams. We develop a fiery passion for the world and the people in it.
Studying abroad is the perfect first step into exploring the culture of travel.
Although many travel experiences seem to be dominated by adrenaline-packed activities and landmarks, it’s the simple moments that may leave the biggest impression.
Yes, you will remember seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time or sky-diving over the Southern Alps, but you will also remember that corner ice cream shop you went to every week or the smell of the ocean air on your daily walk to class. For me, it was a few simple moments camping in a cave on the beach with friends from all over the world that forever has a place in my memory.
I remember that evening well. We sat around the bonfire singing songs and reminiscing about what a great semester it had been. The friends surrounding me were mere strangers a few months earlier and in a week’s time we would all be parting ways, leaving the beautiful country we had begun to call our second home. I fell asleep near the fire, warm and protected from the chilly spring air, and awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. Regardless of the bittersweet ending to an incredible semester, this was one of the happiest moments of my life.
I have many other stories from my time in New Zealand – some a little more adrenaline packed than others – but this moment was one of my favorites. It was so simple, yet so meaningful. I didn't have a care in the world, I didn't think about tomorrow, and I didn't think about yesterday. I was completely content doing virtually nothing and realized I was living exactly the life I wanted to be living. How many people can really say that? We are always looking forward to the next big event, counting down the days, hours until this or that, or wishing away a stressful week of tests and assignments. Studying abroad makes you realize your time is limited and inspires you to enjoy every moment – even the initially dull ones.
Shortly before I left to study in New Zealand I was given some words of wisdom – you could almost call it a prophecy: While I was abroad I wouldn’t fully understand my experience, that it may even seem slightly incomplete, but I would realize once I retuned home that the trip was everything it needed to be.
I think that is true for all experiences. The “returning home” part is what solidifies the experience. This crucial and somewhat difficult time is full of change and readjustment. It is when you realize you miss the little moments. It is when you uncover your new passions and shortcomings. It when you decide how your experiences and the people you met will influence you and your future plans. It is when you decide what aspects of the “abroad you” are going to help re-define the “stateside you”.
So, go out into the world, create your own adventure, and let the little moments happen.