Attending the University of Kentucky is a privilege, and when I graduate next year, I can’t imagine not being a student here. But UK isn’t the only place that had an impact on my life. Where I studied abroad did, too. It’s more about traveling, though. It’s the fact that it pried open my closed mind and changed me for the better. The fact that a small-town Kentucky girl saw life from another’s eyes. So what makes going abroad such an emotional experience for people and why do they always miss it when they return home? I was always so curious about what made studying abroad so great, and more importantly, why people were so enthusiastic about it. Well, after my experience it was clear.
Your program is unique to you. People take their study abroad programs to heart because their program is different than the next persons’. The program they chose was unique to their education goals and preferences. Some students have a language that they’re studying and finally want to see first-hand, others prefer English speaking countries. Some would prefer a more urban country in Europe; others prefer rural areas in South America. Other times, you might just have a love for a country that you can’t explain. There’s not just one study abroad experience: you create your own. You want to talk about it to everyone you see, and they’ll tell you to shut up, but that’s ok because a experience like that shouldn’t be silenced.
Connections you make. Whether you stay with a host family or in an apartment with another student, you’re going to make connections. You’re going to make friendships that will be impossible to forget about, because how could you forget about these people? Staying with a host family terrified me. Who were these people I was going to be staying with for 6 weeks? But when I met the 18 year old girl who was going to be my host sister, I didn’t realize what was coming. I walked into her home the first day with the blankest expression on my face, and then I was at the airport five weeks later sobbing with her when we had to part ways. She was a complete stranger, but in five weeks became by best friend.
You’ll be dying to go back. Every part of me misses studying abroad. It wasn’t the Instagram pictures or great food that got me hooked, but the feeling of doing something different- the feeling that I was seeing something for the first time. In fact I miss it so much that I decided to go again! This isn’t terribly uncommon, because most people experience the same feelings. They had such an amazing time and it affected their lives so much that they have to return and remember what it was like. I undeniably feel the same way. The home you had while abroad still feels like a home.
We’re young. It sucks to say, but when I’m trying to start my career and trying to start a family, I won’t have time to travel. I definitely won’t have time to immerse myself in a culture for six weeks. While I’m young, I want to take advantage of the opportunities I do have while they still last. When else can I leave my normal life in Kentucky and see the unknown? It’s cliché to say, but you only live once. Get out there and do the things you’ve always wanted to do.
Laura Jane Phelps is a sophomore at the University of Kentucky studying German.