Tyler Davoren, CIEE Study Abroad in Brussels, Belgium, Summer 2014
I won’t attempt to estimate how many times I’ve had to answer the following question since returning from my experience studying abroad in Belgium:
“You mentioned that you’ve studied abroad – tell me about that!”
For months this question stumped me. How could I possibly attempt to do justice to the transformative experience that I gained from living, studying, and exploring in a foreign country? My mind raced into overdrive as I tried to simultaneously explain the places I visited, the lessons I learned, the people I met, and the fun I had. There was simply too much information to squeeze into a concise answer that reflected the depth of my experience. With time and practice, I’ve found my answer and am happy to share it with you here. The following three life lessons learned from studying abroad, coupled with the countless lessons amongst and in between them, helped to mold me into the person I am today. I could not be more appreciative of the opportunity I was given, nor could I be more excited to share my story.
From the first day I set foot in Europe, I was sure that this would be a life-changing experience.
From a developmental standpoint, I could not have picked a better time in my life to study abroad. As a rising senior in college with only a semester left before the real world, I lacked that definitive experience that would differentiate me from the waves of other students graduating later that year. I sought to diversify my identity capital by embarking on an adventure that would challenge me to become a better version of myself. From the first day I set foot in Europe, I was sure that this would be a life-changing experience.
Within every study abroad experience is a certain required level of autonomy and independence necessary to survive and, ultimately, to thrive. My program masterfully balanced the need for a comfortable environment that provided each student with a firm foundation to build off of with the need for those invaluable opportunities for growth. The possibilities for me to put myself on a path guaranteed for adventure, and ultimately growth, were truly limitless. Some of the highlights of my time in Europe included a four day excursion to Malta, which required extensive planning and hand gestures upon arrival, a group project worked on with three other students from different countries and native languages, and a dynamic internship in which the office vernacular was French. To find success in these roles and, more importantly, to enjoy myself while doing so, required that I adopt a unique type of confidence and swagger, if you will. Studying abroad taught me the value of independence and comfortability in my own autonomy.
Having developed an air of certitude, I realized that every day had equally immeasurable potential to be expanded upon or squandered away. Seemingly trivial decisions that may have been insignificant in the moment proved to be some of the most colorful memories I returned to the states with. Neglecting to wake up 15 minutes early to stop by the coffee shop on the corner would have deprived me of the friendship I struck with the barista. Packing lunch every day so as to intentionally avoid necessary contact with strangers during my lunch break would have limited my opportunity to pick up neat Belgian-French colloquialisms. Opting to watch the evening’s World Cup match in the comfort of my home would have stripped me of the wonderful experience I had exchanging definitions of “home” with some Irish and English fellows I met in the city center. Studying abroad taught me the benefit of avoiding shortcuts to simply get through the day. It may be cliché to say the road less traveled is worth taking, but I consistently found this to be true during my time abroad.
Building off of the idea that shortcuts aren’t always the best route to take, I have to note that the most important lesson I gathered from studying abroad was the importance of living every single minute of every day intentionally. I put this idea to practice by allowing it to guide my decision-making in both mundane and extraordinary situations alike. Living every minute of every day intentionally has ensured that every action I take is guided by the desire to be happy, the desire to be great, or a combination of the two. I had scratched the surface of the idea before but my experience studying abroad gave me the perspective I needed to recognize that time needs to be spent wisely and each day needs to be seized. During my program I was consistently reminded that I might never again find myself with such adventurous potential at my disposal, so I needed to take a carpe diem-like approach to every moment. This disposition returned to the states with me and my mindset has never been the same. I am now far more likely to spend my free time at the gym, reading a book, calling a friend or exploring a town center than I am wasting time away on social media or watching television. Living every day with intention has taught me to enjoy and take more out of life than I ever did before.
Today, I happily work as a Chapter Support Specialist for the national office of Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity where I regularly utilize the skills I gained and lessons I learned from my experience abroad. My line of work necessitates that I maintain habits that promote productive autonomy while traveling and develop meaningful relationships with the individuals and groups I engage with. While I’m on the road, which may sometimes be as long as two to three weeks at a time, I regularly seek out adventure and opportunities to create memories. Since beginning work in June of 2015, I have traveled to 14 states I had never been to before, driven over 20,000 miles, visited five national parks, taken thousands of pictures, met hundreds of incredible people, made memories that will last a lifetime, and lived every day to the fullest—but I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve said that studying abroad changed my life. Developing comfortability in my own autonomy, avoiding shortcuts whenever possible, and living every minute intentionally has served me well in my time since graduation, and I suspect they’ll continue to do so far into the future.