Many colleges and universities across the United States have a plethora of options to study abroad. Some institutions partner with universities abroad in order to facilitate credit transfer and build lasting relationships, while others have “sister” campuses in various cities, like my university, Champlain College, which has sister campuses in Montreal, Québec, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. With these partnerships and specific abroad locations often comes the reality of going abroad with students from your home institution. While I had the option of studying at one of my school’s sister campuses or venturing to a partner university when I was planning my study abroad journey, I chose to go solo from my home institution to study abroad in Granada, and it was one of the best decisions I made.
Going solo from my home institution was scary. Yes, scary. It definitely wasn’t as easy as choosing to go to Dublin with some of the other students in my major. I wasn’t able to fill out a relatively simple application that had many of the properties and features of documents from my school. I wasn’t able to step into the Office of International Education (OIE) and immediately strike up a conversation about studying abroad, because the staff didn’t automatically know of Granada. In order to go solo from my home institution, I had to confidently walk into OIE, sit down with a staff member, and discuss with them my intentions for wanting to go alone through a third-party, approved organization. After I talked with the OIE staff about my plans, I had to do mountains of paperwork, play email tag with the director of OIE, meet with various departments across campus, and spend hours making sure I met deadlines, all while I could have filled out a simple application through my college and worked more seamlessly with Champlain.
It would have been so much easier to go to Dublin.
However, going solo from my home institution empowered me in a way that many other things in my life never have. By going solo from my home institution, I went against the norm, and I had to advocate for myself. I learned how to meet deadlines that no one besides CEA was reminding me of. I became disciplined in self-motivation, thoroughness, communication, and efficiency, all by choosing to follow my own path. With these skills, I felt equipped to tackle anything that came my way in the 9 months that I prepared to go abroad. I felt as though my voice was fully present in every aspect of my life, and I was able to “pitch” to anyone who questioned my dreams of going to Granada by myself.
With the self-confidence I gained from pursuing a third-party program on my own, I felt ready to head to Spain. Sure, I was nervous to go abroad and be away from what I was used to, but I wasn’t terrified. I felt equipped to tackle anything that came my way, even in a foreign country. The strength I built from choosing to go on my own and demand exactly what I wanted enabled me to have a smooth transition into life in Granada. I encountered what every study abroad student faces, like adjusting to new customs and ways of life, navigating public transport, and figuring out the best place to get a midnight snack, but I definitely had a type of resilience and trust in myself that I may not have had had I gone to Dublin with my peers.
When I arrived in Granada, I depended on myself to make sense of my new life, not others. I didn’t have my peers around me from my home institution to lean on. I didn’t know my professors, and I couldn’t ask them questions beforehand. I didn’t have a friend to get in touch with right away, because I had only talked to one of my roommates briefly before I arrived in Granada, and I didn’t meet the other until we happened to meet each other in the airport. I had to navigate my new way of life on my own, and that’s why going solo was one of the best decisions I made regarding study abroad.
By going solo, I gained self-confidence. By going solo, I endured a lot of my study abroad experience by majorly stepping outside of my comfort zone, interacting with new people and making new friends, and improving my relationship with myself, because, at the end of some days, I only had myself.
I was able to make friends from Spain, friends who will welcome me with open arms when I return to Granada one day. I didn’t feel tied down to peers from my home institution while I was abroad. I felt free to do as I pleased, and I’m so grateful to have experienced this feeling. I built a better relationship with myself from every mistake and good decision I made while abroad. I am a better version of myself from having gone solo from Champlain College. I feel as though I am a great example of someone who was successful in this experience, and I am a trailblazer for others at my school. To anyone who may be afraid to go alone, this is what I suggest: explore your options, and envision yourself stepping into your new life abroad with just yourself. Imagine how amazing that feeling can be, or ask someone who has experienced it. I can assure you, you’ll only hear of positive outcomes and dream of the liberation you’re destined to feel by going solo.
Angela Richard is the Summer 2020 CEA MOJO Blogger in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Champlain College.