“Hiya, is everybody here?” She scans the room to get a general head count; 51, good. “Good, let’s get started. Welcome everyone, to your semester abroad!”
These words were spoken on January 29th to me and 50 other students from the United States who were embarking on a semester abroad experience in Scotland. For roughly four months, we would be thrown out of our element in a foreign country in the Experience Scotland program through the University of Wisconsin. Most of us were scared, terrified even, of what lie ahead. Little did we know it was about to be the most terrifying, exhilarating, and life changing experience we have ever had.
One of the main reasons wanted to go abroad was to get a change of pace and scenery. I love the Midwest and I love the United States, but I did not want these to be the only places, cultures, and ways of life that I ever experienced in life. Scotland, and the environment in which I lived, was unlike any I have ever experienced before. People were not in such a hurry. They took a step back, took a breath. They stopped to enjoy what was around them, the history and the stories that were behind it, and the people they met along the way.
Now, having had my experience in Scotland come to an end and having had to say some extremely hard goodbyes, I have returned home. Those four months went by too fast and I would give anything to go back and have just another week, even another day. I created incredible friendships with people I now consider some of my best friends. They know, love, and accept the real Rachel; her passions, her fears, her weird quirks, the person she hopes to become, and she the same for them. I created memories to last a lifetime; moments and inside jokes that I can look back on and that will bring a smile and probably a nostalgic tear or two to the corners of my eyes. For these things, and so much more, I will be eternally grateful to the people I met and the places I visited.
My experience abroad taught me a lot about myself. It reaffirmed my passion for education and my desire to work with and motivate young adults to accomplish their goals. It also encouraged a more recent dream of mine, to enter the Peace Corps after graduating from college. To travel the world, immerse myself in new cultures, and create change all at the same time would be a dream come true. Career aspirations aside, being abroad allowed for a tremendous amount of self discovery and personal growth. I accept the fact that I cannot change certain circumstances that are beyond my control but I strive to find solutions to those I can change. I value, am grateful for, and more openly express how incredibly blessed and lucky I am. I have a family I adore and who support me through every step I take, friends who are always there for me, a faith that stands steady, a home that is always welcome to me, a university that pushes me to my best, and so much more. I know I have worth and that I can, and will, create things in life. I love adventures and learning the history and stories behind a country and its people.
If I could go back and have a second chance at my semester, I honestly would not change a single second of it. Every transportation issue, minor meltdown, homesick moment, late night, nearly missed plane, lost piece of luggage, bad hostel, it was all part of the best experience I have ever had. If you or someone you know ever has the chance to go abroad, seize the opportunity. Do it for the change in scenery. Do it for the change in pace. Do it for the self discovery and personal growth. Do it for the adventures and the unknown. Do it for the experience. I promise you won’t regret a single second.
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