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How Studying Abroad Changed Me

As the year came to a close, I reflect on how my study abroad experience made 2013 one of the best years of my life.

By Terah Summers, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

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“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky


love this quote. I think it kind of summarizes why I decided to study abroad. This blog is very difficult to write. I can go on and on about a new country and all of my adventures, but how can I summarize a personal journey? The nostalgia is starting to creep in because I’m a week away from ending my program. However, this is only the beginning of the end. I’ll be traveling alone in Ireland for two weeks before meeting my family to travel with them in Spain and Italy. But I know a chapter has ended. I’m looking back at the girl standing terrified at Madrid airport and realizing that she is not the same girl writing this blog now. Ok, I haven’t completely changed. I’m still me, but I’m a stronger, more confident me. Sometimes trying to explain a personal journey is like trying to explain which came first, the chicken or the egg. But I’m going to try just because I think this is one of the best reasons why you should study abroad. So I’m taking a deep breath and jumping into the deep end of the pool.
I didn’t decide to study abroad because I wanted to. Of course it was something I wanted, but it was actually more like something I needed. For me, studying abroad did not mean my semester to party. Let me explain. My entire life up until now has revolved around Hawai’i. High school was not the highlight of my life to put it lightly. I’d spent those years plagued with low self-esteem. I was so introverted! And looking back I think my shyness got misinterpreted as being stuck up. It wasn’t until college that I finally flicked on the switch.  At first I was bitterly disappointed that I didn’t go to college in the “mainland” (aka the rest of the USA).  And even more disappointed that I wasn’t drowning in student loans (said nobody). But I slowly shaved away my insecurities and was so much happier. Next to studying in the mainland, studying abroad seemed like the next best thing. If I couldn’t live a five hour plane ride away from home in a place like Cali for four years, why not live half way around the world for half a year? I wanted to have a time in my life where I could completely strip away everything familiar and comfortable. But the idea of being alone without my family, friends, beaches, and palm trees in a place so far from home also terrified me more than excited me. Was I strong enough for this? But in the words of Columbus “you can never cross the ocean unless you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” So that’s what I did.
Cut to the present. I’ve seen and done things I never thought I’d have the courage to do. I’ve flown half away around the world by myself, sung karaoke in Spanish, stayed out until 8:30 in the morning, met friends from around the world through couchsurfing, rode a camel in the Sahara, jumped into the Atlantic ocean in Portugal, saw the power of religion during Semana Santa, and wore a flamenco dress during Feria. It hasn’t always been easy being on my own, but a lot of the harder times have become the most memorable and transformative. Spain has both captivated me and frustrated me, but that’s only natural when you’re thrown into a new, unfamiliar culture. I will forever love the Spanish for simply their love of life. I don’t know how to describe it… they just know how to live to fullest. Family, friends and good times are so much more important to them than money and prestige. There’s even a word in Spanish that describes the time after dinner where you talk story with your family and friends. But I will forever be unable to understand why people party until seven in the morning.  And WHY do they eat dinner sometime as late as 10pm at night?
I think no matter where I travel or live in future, there will always be that small town, Maui girl in me. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I made. I wanted to leave Hawai’i to escape my past, when in fact I needed to leave Hawai’i to embrace my past and grow from it.

Terah Summers

University of Hawaii at Manoa | 15 stories

Terah is an island girl born and raised in Hawai'i. She is an economics major attending University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She also works at her university as a campus tour guide. In her free time she enjoys surfing, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, writing, reading and obsessing over travel photos on Pinterest. After returning from a semester abroad in Spain, she dreams of traveling the world, learning new languages, and making a difference! She is currently traveling in South America so check out here personal blog :

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