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Is Your Study Abroad Experience Changing Who You Are?

Katherine Zacapa from Honduras poses for a photo while studying abroad in Japan.

Katherine Zacapa from Honduras is doing a study abroad in Japan after being an international student in the United States.

We all go through different experiences in life. People classify them as either positive or negative. Usually, a change in personality comes with them as a combo. At times, we realize this change instantly. But sometimes, we change slowly and then, years later, we find ourselves saying, “I remember when I was someone different.”

This thought popped into my head while I was watching a movie. When I was younger, I remember loving romantic movies. I would sigh, cry and wish so badly for a love just like the ones from a Nicholas Sparks book. After my first big break up, I stopped watching romantic movies. I just didn’t want to go through watching something that I didn’t believe was real. After almost three years, I saw a movie that used to mean a lot to me and I realized, “Wow, I think and feel so differently about this now compared to three years ago.”

You might think that this isn’t such a big deal, but it actually says a lot about me. I started wondering, what have I stopped believing in? What has changed in my head? Is this what I actually want to believe?

Now you may be wondering, how does this even relate to being an international student?

Well, studying abroad is a MAJOR EXPERIENCE that will 9 times out of 10, CHANGE YOU A LOT (if not completely). Normally, we just roll with this. One day, we get embarrassed about pronouncing something wrong. The next day you just want to stop talking as much because of being afraid of making the same mistake or you decide to try harder and pronounce that word perfectly. Whichever you choose from these two small decisions might be a route you will stick to many times from that point on. Later on, it might be deciding to stay in your room instead of going to that farmer’s market on Sunday. It might be preferring to not go to a social event on campus using an excuse as “I have nothing to wear” instead of meeting new people and making new friends.

My whole point with this is, through small decisions, you change and redefine your personality. If you don’t realize what you’re changing into, will you ever become that person you really want to be?

It is so easy to fall into an autopilot state while studying abroad. We focus on trying to travel every weekend, meet as many people as we can, but what about you? How is all of that changing you? Don’t let your study abroad experience be a blur at the end or just pictures with no awareness of how this awesome adventure is changing you. Every few weeks, ask yourself if you are making decisions that go with what you want to be and feel. Classify them as being positive or negative. By being more conscious of them you will be moving easily towards what you want to be or what you are comfortable being.

Don’t let five years pass by and say, “Wow I remember when I was much more, but now I am this.”

Imagine saying that and not being happy about it. You have one of the greatest opportunities to grow through studying abroad. Think about how you see yourself in the future and how you are going to move towards that image through small positive decisions.

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