I have always loved travel, although I haven't done it nearly as much as I want to. In high school, I traveled to Italy and Greece and fell in love. The architecture was so beautiful, the culture so rich, and it was all around so different from America, a place I often felt lacked a strong cultural connection. This was the true beginning of my travel bug.
I couldn't afford another such trip in high school, so I made plans to study abroad in college. I chose my university very specifically to ensure that I would get the opportunity to do so easily and at an affordable cost. I was already going to be in enough debt, I didn't want to add any more if I could help it.
At my school, study abroad is more than just an activity that a small number of people partake in; it is part of the culture. Something like eighty percent of the students who attend my university study abroad for some extent of time. The university even offers freshmen various study abroad options.
I applied for the first study abroad option, which allows freshmen the chance to spend either first or second semester abroad. I was hoping to be able to study abroad second semester, which would give me a chance to make friends before leaving, but was assigned instead to go for first semester. I made the decision that this was not the option for me. I wanted to spend my first semester on campus. I wanted the chance to meet as many people as possible rather than the small number who would be from my university studying abroad with me.
This was not a decision I look lightly and looking back, I do not regret it. I met most of my friends first semester. These are people I truly care about. I met the rest of my friends and my partners through my other friends, meaning if I had studied abroad that first semester, I would likely not know these people who have changed my life so much for the better.
I did, however, take part in the other freshman study abroad program, which is called Preview and allows students to take a two credit class relating to a certain country and then spend a week in that country. The options include countries such as Italy, Cuba, and Japan, and all for less than $1000.
I traveled to Austria. It was wonderful, and made especially magical by the fact that I traveled with friends. Having all of these people, who I knew and hung out with regularly, to travel abroad with was what made the entire trip. I had people to talk with, people to room with, people to spend my free time with. I wasn't awkwardly trying to find a group to hang out with, because my group had already been established, and that made the trip easy. It took all the awkwardness out of the week and left me ecstatically happy.
So I took all of this in stride and planned to study abroad later, during my junior year, second semester, which is the traditional time to study abroad. However as the time got closer, I began to waver in this decision. When talking to friends, they talked about how studying abroad was a wonderful experience, but it also had its downsides. Mainly, being separated from your friends and the potential toll on mental health. Being alone could really take its toll on people, and this was expressed to me by multiple people.
Spring semester before my senior year, I had really begun to fall apart, mental health-wise. I knew I needed to see a therapist and get on meds to deal with the intense depression and anxiety I was dealing with, but I had yet to do it. I knew that it would be a long process, and taking a semester away from it and separating myself from everything that gave me peace and made me feel whole and human would really not be a good idea.
The thing that really pushed me over the edge was the realization that what had made my time in Austria so especially wonderful was my friends. Separating myself from them, especially in my delicate mental state, was not what I needed to do. Instead, I have begun to plan a post-graduation trip with my friends. This way, I will still get to travel, but I will have my friends, while being in a significantly better mental state.
Overall, I know that not studying abroad when I had the chance was the best decision for me. Plenty of people told me I would regret it, but I know I won't. The decision was the right one for me, and that is what matters.