It’s January 2020, and I’m scrolling through my Gmail inbox of spam and homework. As I opened the Claremont Global Education email, my eyes widened. The idea of studying abroad in England for a whole semester excited me — I knew I wanted to apply.
However, the people around me initially responded negatively to this idea. My friends asked if we would lose touch. My parents asked how I’d navigate this new education system and learn to live in a foreign country. While these questions are valid, they can come across as unsupportive and discouraging for students considering studying abroad.
Upon my acceptance into the program, I was absolutely thrilled. I remember jumping out of bed and taking a fast walk around campus. My hands shook as I called everyone I knew about the big news. I obviously already knew that I wanted to go, and I knew that I had accomplished something huge. But still, I had doubts. Did I need a visa? How would I explain to my friends at Claremont McKenna College that I was going to spend six months in another country? And was I making a mistake, especially since I had already spent my first year of college online?
However, all my concerns have been alleviated by the amazing support systems the Claremont Colleges have to offer students who want to study abroad. The Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) helped me figure out how to renew my British passport and offered support if I needed to apply for a student visa. They also created a financial plan, a COVID-19 navigation plan and an orientation program for my arrival. When I got the chance to visit Oxford over the summer, I was so thankful that IFSA had connected me to such a dynamic learning community.
In terms of social connection, my friends and family ultimately have been unbelievably supportive of my decision. My friends realized that we can keep in touch through social media, WhatsApp and Zoom. They have also come to see this as an experience that will allow me to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone.
If you desire to explore another country, studying abroad provides a safe, supportive way to do so while allowing you to still stay on track to graduate. If I decide to move abroad after graduation, it would be much harder to navigate challenging situations without the experience of a study abroad program.
I wanted to get some feedback from peers who are currently studying abroad. While I can share my experiences with the application process and preparing for the trip, I don’t have direct experience of living abroad yet.
I reached out to Kenneth Owusu CM ’24 who is currently studying in Berlin, Germany to provide some insight.
“Well, there’s only so much discovery that can happen in the city of trees and PhDs,” he said. “When you study abroad you get to rediscover yourself three or more times — pre-abroad you will be different from abroad you and that you will be different from post-abroad you.”
To get another perspective, I asked Annabelle Duflock CM ’24, who is studying in Granada, Spain about her experience.
“I can’t recommend studying abroad enough — it’s challenging at times but so worth it,” she said. “The world is big and we should take a chance to see it.”
Clearly, these are living testaments to how life-changing and valuable study abroad can be. Of course, it is scary for friends and family to picture their loved one moving to another side of the world. Unconsciously, I think this might be why they can initially be discouraging. However, upon your acceptance I guarantee their tone will shift when they actually are confronted with the reality of what they are asking you to give up by staying close to home.
We have lost so much to COVID-19, and we shouldn’t let it take away our opportunity to travel the world when we have the opportunities to do so safely and supportively. If the pandemic taught me anything, it was that nothing should be taken for granted.
If you feel passionate and drawn to studying abroad, please listen to your gut. Don’t let anxiety or fear of the unknown stop you from applying. Our college years are some of the most formative of our lives, and I implore you to take every chance to broaden your horizons and grow as an individual.
Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is a literature and film dual major. She loves her pugs, creative writing and iced coffee.