Like many of my peers in the Class of 2018, I have recently returned from a most memorable study abroad experience. I spent the Spring 2017 semester living and studying with the Brandeis in The Hague program, out of Leiden, The Netherlands. There are too many positive adjectives in the English language that qualify for how I would characterize my experience in The Netherlands in sum, but a couple would definitely include “formative” and “life-changing.”
My four months in the Hague constituted a major life journey. This was not always my attitude about this and I certainly did not expect to be dazzled before I left the United States, though.
I was admitted into the Brandeis in The Hague program on the doorstep of my junior year, very much uncertain whether I was serious about traveling to Europe for such an extended period of time. After all, I had spent the entire summer half-doubting I would admitted into the program. Compounded with my family’s concerns about the terrorism and security problems in Europe in 2016, at the beginning that September there was a very real chance that I would simple step back and walk away from the opportunity.
I had even expressed my concerns to a professor and sought his advice. He did not let me doubt myself for a minute, and I saw the point in his words to not throw away such an opportunity over uncertainty and what may have been overblown concerns. Still tentative, I went forward and embarked on the pre-program meet and greets and other orientations here at Brandeis. Each one of these sessions represented a step in the right direction and assuaged my concerns. By the middle of fall 2016, I had adopted a gung-ho attitude about the trip. I was ready to go.
However, I was still uncertain about my future in The Netherlands when I landed at Schiphol Airport and saw Amsterdam for the first time. I stayed there with my father for the first few days, and we took in the sights. Even then, though, I still was not 100 percent ready. The minute I stepped foot in Leiden—the city where we lived during the Hague program—I realized that things were different. Professor Richard Gaskins of the Legal Studies department and the Brandeis in The Hague program director was the first face—a familiar face—that I saw, and I hadn’t even left the train station.
Leiden (a city in between Amsterdam and The Hague and the base for Brandeis in The Hague) is a beautiful city: warm, safe, rich with history. It felt like home. The Hague had a similar, yet more professional and urban appeal, but was still as friendly, inviting and breathtaking as Leiden.
It wasn’t just the location, though, that made my experience formative and life-changing; it was the people around me. I found the Dutch warm and friendly. The Brandeis in The Hague cohort was terrific. The academic faculty and staff that we worked with were incredible. I made lasting friendships and, even in a place with so much to do and see, managed to learn a thing or two about international law and what I may want to do with my life.
Had I succumbed to self-doubt and worry about going to Europe for an entire semester, I wouldn’t have had these life-changing experiences. I recommend that students thinking about studying abroad to not overthink it. Consider if doing so would be right for you, but don’t be overtaken by the “what ifs” and fear of leaving your comfort zone.
Had I not consulted that professor and articulated my concerns and had he not responded with such powerful words, I would not have been able to meet the people that I met. I would not have been able to physically, personally and academically go on a life-changing journey. I believe that I would be a different person had I stayed here at Brandeis, and I would be none more the wiser as to the world outside the United States.
So, if you are thinking about studying abroad, think through your options carefully, but don’t let yourself miss out on what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.