July 18, 2016

Stay at Home M̶o̶m̶ Student

Lizzie McIvor

I always thought I would go abroad. It wasn’t even a question. So how did I end up spending an entire semester liking hundreds of my friends’ “Abroadie!” Facebook albums from my WashU Tempurpedic mattress?

Let’s back up.  Set the scene a little.  Sophomore year.  That’s when everybody starts panicking about study abroad, although it always seemed a bit pointless since 100% of students who apply for an abroad program get in. Don’t actually fact check that statistic, because I completely made it up. But I’ve never heard of someone not going abroad who wanted to (barring GPA and credits related reasons—but that’s rare).

I’m not going to lie—I really procrastinated the heck out of meeting with my advisor. Wouldn’t recommend it.  I don’t think there was any good reason why, but I remember there was a paper due one week, and then I was sick another week, and then it was midterm season, and then it was Mac ’n’ cheese day at the DUC, and then I had a package at the mailroom, and then I had to do laundry, and then it wasn’t Mac ‘n’ cheese day at the DUC when it should’ve been, which really threw my whole day off, and then suddenly it was the last possible week to meet with anyone before they just assumed I wasn’t going abroad. 

So I met with my advisor.

All of my friends have their lives together a tiny bit more than I do, so they had already had all their meetings and started their applications.  Some were going to Denmark, others to Ireland, Australia, Netherlands, Africa, Asia, Antarctica, you name it.  WashU has a lot of options, but you can also submit any program for approval.  So basically you can go anywhere. Which for someone like me, who takes seven and a half minutes to decide which color coffee mug to use each morning, was an actual nightmare.

Besides being horribly indecisive, I also didn’t want to miss out on any of my semesters at WashU.  You only get four years in college, and it flies by.  I don’t feel that different from my freshman-year self, except now I don’t have to use the map app to navigate around campus and the phone calls from my mother asking what I’m going to do with my life have increased to every other day.

I told (most of) this to my advisor, and he gave me the weirdest piece of advice I could imagine from a study-abroad advisor: Don’t study abroad.

He told me that unless I wanted to take classes from a specific program overseas, don’t study abroad.  WashU has an amazing selection of linguistics classes, and I had a hard time finding a program overseas that offered anything comparable.  If I just wanted to travel, travel on my own time, over the summer, after college—which I plan on doing. 

I’m not advocating against study abroad, by any means.  It’s an amazing opportunity.  I visited my roommate in Denmark over spring break, and just a week there was such a completely unfamiliar experience.  I learned two phrases in Danish that both mean “I don’t speak Danish,” although I also learned that a panicked, blank stare is equally effective in getting that message across.  There are castles everywhere. Hygge. Danish food is (can be) amazing.  Don’t try their licorice—it’s not what you’re expecting.  It’s salty. And they love it.

Study abroad isn’t for everyone.  If you want to stay home, stay home—don’t get pressured into leaving because of FOMO. It isn’t your last ever opportunity to travel.  Most people will go abroad, but enough people stay that you’ll have a new, tighter-knit community of students in your year to bond with.  And you won’t miss a whole semester of Mac ‘n’ cheese days.