It has been an extremely odd 2022 for all those juniors who left Waltham to study abroad, both for the entire year and for those who went away only for one semester. We have not yet had one full year on campus which was “normal” where we were able to be with friends and enjoy the usual school activities and traditions. I have yet to experience Springfest and break down into tears as I see my senior friends graduate. Yet, I wouldn’t have changed anything about my decision to go abroad. For everyone who is stuck between going abroad and staying on campus, I want you to hear me out. Here is my elevator pitch for going abroad:
Going abroad forces you to reconcile with stereotypes that have been enforced into your mind either from cartoons, the media or simple conversation with friends. Most of the time you realize how wrong they are and other times you just have to laugh at how accurate they can be. On one of my journeys, I made my way to Milan and from there saw just how Italian some Italians can be. From the excessive wrist motions with all fingertips touching to all the men wearing scarves, you couldn’t help but laugh sometimes. In them, I saw so many of the expressions and body language motions that I see on the Italian side of my family.
Then, you also see how wrong some stereotypes are. While traveling to Latvia I was convinced I would be returning to the United States in a body bag. When I arrived in Latvia, my flight was supposed to land at midnight with the last bus leaving the airport fifteen minutes after. But, due to delays I landed in Latvia at one in the morning and had to take a taxi to my hotel. I was warned of taxis that would scam you and I immediately got caught in one. As I walked out to the taxi stall I felt a hand on my shoulder and in what sounded like a Hollywood Russian accent I heard from behind me, “you need taxi?” On the inside I was peeing myself but on the outside I could only manage to ask, “What is your rate?” To which I received the most terrifying answer ever: “My rate is I get you where you need to go.” I was then led to an unmarked black car in the back of the airport parking lot. In those moments before I opened the car door I suddenly became the most Catholic person in the world with my prayer per minute (PPM) counter flying up from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds. What followed was one of the most expensive taxis I have ever taken only to be let out a block away from my hotel, but I discovered a musical country untouched by tourists.
Latvia ended up becoming one of my favorite trips because everything to me was new and a surprise. From Latvians’ love of artisan hamburgers and Baltic pub songs to the weirdest foods such as chicken liver pâté and beetroot anything, I was impressed throughout my short visit. It didn’t stand out because the buildings were old or because the history was anything we Americans venerate, but because a barrier in my mind was broken down and I saw the country and people with fresh eyes for the first time. You’ll always know what Waltham is like and what goes on from one end of South Street to the other, but you will rarely have the opportunity to travel the world as a young, energetic and impressionable individual. It is an invaluable experience to see the world from that vantage point and not one to miss if you can help it.
Going abroad is also perfect for making friends. I know we Brandeisians can be fairly introverted and struggle to solidify core friend groups, but practice makes perfect. Relocating yourself can put you back into a position where you feel like a first-year in the fall. You’re all alone and don’t know anyone, but force yourself to break out of your shell and the people you meet will blow you away. From the other Americans on your program to Brits and Aussies there is no shortage of fun personalities to meet who speak English. Then those who are residents of your abroad location will cement the experience in your mind as they show you around and introduce you to their world. I will always be grateful for my friends Sofia and Jim who showed me around Maastricht, whether it be bars and restaurants or all the theaters and cool spots they knew, I found out so much more about Maastricht than I would have on my own.
To use a phrase that everyone makes fun of people who studied abroad for using, going abroad will truly reform you. From how you socialize, to how you view others and even how you learn, being abroad shows you the world outside of the one you have constructed for yourself. It certainly hurt to be away from everything I knew I had at Brandeis. Despite not knowing the true Brandeis outside of COVID I know I came back a better person than I left. Even though some may say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, for all those wanting to go abroad, do not listen to those people. The world is waiting for you to explore every nook and cranny of it.