One of the best things about attending a liberal arts school is the ample opportunities and resources it provides students, one of them being the chance to study abroad. Almost half of the Whitman students get involved in off-campus studies, and last spring, I was one of the hundreds of lucky Whitties who got to go abroad.
The application process was extensive, as it took over a semester for me to decide where I wanted to go, how I would finance it, and what classes I would take, along with being approved for a visa. Although I initially wanted to go to the United Kingdom, after much thought and research, I eventually chose Amsterdam, because they had the best Psychology program I could find within Europe.
At the end of January, I packed my bags and took the ten hour flight from Houston to Schiphol Airport to begin orientation for my spring semester. Upon landing, I was immediately thrust into an adventure; all of my electronics had died and I had no adapter or power charger, so I found a taxi shuttle outside (I later learned there were much cheaper options of leaving the airport) and made my way to the student hotel. That first morning, sleep-deprived and confused, I was forced to learn how to use the metro system for the first time to travel to the city center, and had to take directions from random people in order to find the electronics store where I could find an adapter for my outlets. I made it to and from the store in one piece, albeit sluggish, overwhelmed and dazed.
This was only the beginning of a wild, fast-paced four months, in which I traveled, explored, struggled, and made strong social connections that I hope will last me a lifetime. For anybody on the fence about leaving campus to study abroad, I cannot recommend it enough. As someone who wasn’t sure if I could ever afford it, Whitman provided me with the financial resources to help me out during my time in Amsterdam. After careful budgeting, I even had enough money leftover to travel, and had the chance to visit several other countries with new friends I made along the way. The values of going abroad are endless; not only do you gain novel experiences in a new city, you also have the chance to learn about new cultures, meet international students you never would have met otherwise, and take the time off from a stressful traditional college routine (but be careful not to neglect your coursework!). It also forces you to gain independence, and look to others for help when necessary.
Although there were aspects of the states that I missed while I was gone, leaving Amsterdam–unsure when or if I will ever have a chance to go back–left a small ache in my chest. I knew I’d miss the big city life, the mild spring weather, the landscape, the old European architecture, the abundance of bikes — I could go on and on. Re-adjusting to my hometown was tough, especially since I had to bite my tongue every time I found myself starting to compare it to my experience abroad, including the food, the lifestyle, the people, and the public transportation. I had been exposed to a whole new world, and suddenly had an opinion about everything. Returning to campus after eight months of being away was somehow more difficult. Of course I was excited to see my friends and finally be an upperclassman, but life had gone on without me, and during the first week I almost felt like a freshman again, sort of out of place, sort of unsure what I was doing here. However, there was one major difference: I was older now, and had been challenged by new experiences– unlike my first year, this time around I felt confident.
Going abroad is well worth the price, as it gives you a learning experience no parental figure or classroom setting can replicate. Give it a chance– you might find an inner strength you didn’t know you had, and learn critical life lessons along the way.