I expected this semester to be a lonely one because I am a junior at Brandeis, and many of my friends are currently overseas. I worried that I would look at the empty seat at the dinner table or calculate the time difference between me and my friend or see on social media the photos my friends posted from cool places and feel forlorn, jealous or full of regret. As it turned out, I did experience all of those emotions at some point or another, but overall, I have remained content with my decision to stay on campus.
The main reason I am glad that I decided not to study abroad is because I take a long time to settle in. I think about how hard I worked to get into Brandeis, how long it took me to find my place in the community and how much I’m enjoying myself now that I feel like I fit in, and I’m very happy I chose to stay. It would have been upsetting for me to arrive on campus in the fall of 2016 and know that soon I would have to leave again. To get to this place where I finally feel completely settled, comfortable and happy and know that I only have two more years in somewhere it took so long for me to truly call home is difficult enough. To spend four months of it in another country where I would have to start from scratch again was always out of the question.
I know that not everyone feels this way. Some people get settled in new places quickly. Some people get antsy living in one place for too long. I am happy for and proud of my friends who have the courage to fly to new countries and time zones by themselves. Studying abroad was the right choice for a lot of people, but staying at Brandeis was the right choice for me. Being satisfied with my decision to stay enables me to cheer on my friends who are abroad without feeling jealous or contrite.
Furthermore, none of this means that I am opposed to traveling. I want to travel, but I don’t feel rushed; I am only 20 years old, and know I have many adventures ahead of me. While I’m interested in visiting other places, I don’t want to live there. I want to go on vacation and not worry about work or school. I want to spend way too much money and do all the cliche, touristy things required of whatever place I choose to visit. But then I want to come home. Back to reality, back to where I have a place in the community and a library card and I know all the shortcuts.
I hope that anyone reading this will feel a little bit of the pressure come off their shoulders. Brandeis students often get stuck in the “Brandeis bubble.” Because they are surrounded by so many high-achieving people, they feel it is necessary to be the best just to compete. My off-campus life experiences tell me this is not true. Nobody has to major in the most subjects, join the most clubs, play the most sports, work the most jobs and travel to the most places to be extraordinary. I admit that sometimes it is okay to be passive. That there is something extraordinary about knowing yourself well enough to make the decision that is right for you, even if it seems less cool than what everyone else is doing and being able to go through with it without caring what everyone else thinks.
Studying abroad has been a wonderful experience for many of my friends, but that does not mean that I had to follow suit to be happy. I have had an excellent time taking classes on campus, deepening my friendships here and applauding my friends overseas while eagerly anticipating their safe return.