How Study Abroad Changed Who I Am

Amit Kumar studied abroad with API in Seville, Spain. He currently serves as an API Peer Mentor at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Amit featured in an API student video of Seville…

 

Before I studied abroad, I thought I knew who I was. I was “the smart kid,” the one always near the top of his class, the one who would chip into the conversation every now and then but who for the most part was pretty quiet and reserved. I had my group of friends, but I wasn’t one to venture far from my comfort zone. I wouldn’t branch out to meet too many new people, I wouldn’t put myself into uncomfortable situations, and I would do, more or less, what society told me I was supposed to do as a freshman in college – study. What eluded me was the whole college aura of meeting all kinds of new people and having all kinds of new experiences. That just wasn’t me.

Before I studied abroad, I thought I knew where I was going. I would take all my journalism classes, maybe spend a semester in Europe, get a solid journalism internship after my junior year and join the journalism workforce straight out of college. There weren’t a lot of questions; my life for the next four years was planned out, and that was what I was going to do.

Study abroad changed all of that for me. And I couldn’t be happier with the results.

When I first chose to study abroad, I didn’t even know why I was doing it. I’d always wanted to see the famed city-on-water that is Venice, Italy, so I decided to do a six-week summer program in Florence, Italy. I didn’t even know one thing about Florence until I stepped foot off the plane.

But during those six weeks in Italy, I could feel myself coming out of my shell. For the first time in my life, I was with people who had no preconceptions about who I was, who didn’t know me at all. For the first time, I was meeting people outside of my little slice of life in South Carolina, and in actuality almost all of the Americans in my program were from the North. Couple that with the fact that I was having daily interactions with Italians who came from a completely different personal-interaction background (good Lord, could they possibly get any closer to your face when they talked to you?) and language, and I had no choice: I had to learn how to talk to people.

Fast-forward a few months to when I returned to my home university for the fall semester. I could feel that I was a different person, and my friends could see it, too. I was having more conversations with people, meeting more people than ever before, and I was loving every second of it. From my time in Italy, I had gotten “the bug” – I had to travel, I had to encounter new cultures, I had to once more get the opportunity to meet people from all the over the world that I would never otherwise get to.

I needed to study abroad again. So, I signed up to spend the coming spring semester in Seville, Spain.

And in Spain, my personality transformation really reached completion. I was meeting new people literally every day – Americans, Spaniards, Britons, Germans. No longer was I the shy guy who hugged the back wall at parties or outings. Now, I was one of the first to put myself out there in a situation completely new to me, extend a handshake, and try to get to know every acquaintance at more than just surface-level.

Study abroad changed me into a people person. It’s a change that’s helped me both in my career path – journalism is all about talking to people, after all – and in my daily happiness. I have more friends now, both at my home university and across the globe, than I could have ever imagined, and I have my experiences abroad to thank for shaping my personality.

Speaking of career paths, studying abroad definitely did a number on mine. I’m still finishing my degree in journalism for the moment, but studying abroad changed my ideas of what I can do with my life. Not to over-use a cliché, but going abroad showed me what a wide world there is out there, and it’s a wide world full of so many opportunities.

Eventually I’ll make my way into a workforce, of course, and maybe it’ll even still be in journalism; but no longer is that my immediate concern. I want to teach English abroad after I graduate; I want to volunteer in some culture completely different from my own; I want to find a job where I can travel, meet new cultures, see the sights and just live life while I’m still young. When else do we have such an opportunity to just pick up our bags and go, other than during and right after college?

Studying abroad showed me that I don’t need to follow any cookie-cutter path in life, and that’s probably my number one takeaway from all my experiences. I’ll eventually get around to the whole having-a-real-job thing; right now, I’m busy meeting and talking to as many people as I can and fitting as many experiences as possible into this short thing we call life.

 

 

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