Study Abroad

Most people say that college is the best time of your life. That can certainly be true if you make the most out of the experience. As far as I am concerned, there is no better way to do that than by doing study abroad. It was the best thing I ever did. It changed the course of my life, my focus and what I wanted out of my college experience and my post graduate life. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. If and when I ever have kids, it will be mandatory for them to study abroad and I cannot possibly recommend something more for college kids. It is the best experience of college and actually has long lasting implications. Although it was always hard to convey to friends who didn’t study abroad; I knew then and still know now, that it was a life changing experience. It shouldn’t be missed.

When I was 19 years old, I was finishing up my sophomore year at the University of Maryland, a place that I love and support to this day. But I was bored. I was bored of doing the same thing. I was tired of fraternity and keg parties every weekend and going to the same bars and seeing the same people night after night. I wanted something more but didn’t know what.

My buddy Mike, who you may recognize from some of my posts as we travel together still; was going to London. He mentioned it to me a few times over the course of the semester and I always replied, “Ehhh, why would I want to go to London?” At that point on my life I had never left America. In fact, the only time I had been further away from Connecticut than Northern Virginia was when another buddy and I had driven down to Miami for Spring Break earlier my sophomore year.

One day out of nowhere, after another weekend of the same old thing and major hangovers, I decided to go to London. I didn’t really think much else about it. I figured what the hell, it’s only 4 months. All this stuff in college would still be here when I get back and I’d be in London with one of my best friends…what the hell?!

After my decision, I still had like 3-4 months until we were to actually fly to London. I rarely even thought about it, except for the fact that I was scared to fly and I knew the flight was 6 hours or so. I had only been on one plane before and that was the Delta shuttle from New York to Washington DC which is 45 minutes or so.

As the day I was to leave approached, it was late summer 1998. If you remember that was the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the baseball home run record and the Yankees were about to wrap up the greatest season any team has ever had. I actually thought about skipping out on London so I could watch the end of this incredible baseball season (Yes I love sports that much). It wasn’t like today where you can just get on the Internet and watch everything, check scores, etc. It wasn’t widely available in fall 1998 and even if it was, I didn’t know how to email, type or certainly use the Internet. I was a little behind on technology.
Anyway, my father told me the deposit on my flat was already paid and it was non-refundable and I had to go. Plus he said he’d call me if McGwire or Sosa broke the record! I wasn’t thrilled but I had a good whatever attitude about going. What was the worst that could happen?

The worst that could happen ended up being the best decision of my life. When Mike and I landed in Heathrow airport and went outside to wait for the cab to bring us to our flat, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The cars drove on the other side of the street, they sounded like they do in the movies with the British accent and I was hooked. The rest is history.

I traveled to some 15 countries in the 5 months-I stayed extra time because I loved it so much. I was hooked on Europe and met so many people that made me want to see other places in the world. Aside from travel related stuff, it changed my perception of things. It matured me a great deal and opened my eyes to globalization and other perspectives. It made me a better and smarter person.

When I got back the only issue was I missed London and the freedom of being on my own in a great city. My friends didn’t understand what I was missing because they didn’t know the experience. This longing led me to go out and do more things around Washington and even in New York City when I was home. I realized I had to be where the action was and that after 17 years in Trumbull, CT and 4 years in College Park, MD, I needed more…so I moved to New York City after graduating in 2000 and haven’t left since-less a few trips abroad!

I write this long winded, yet still incredibly abridged version of what I went through and how I ended up studying abroad because I get a ton of questions from college kids about studying abroad. Some kids who know they want to do it, ask me where they should go and why. Other kids, who are like I was, ask me why they should go and what’s so great about it.

Of course the answer is everything.

You have absolute freedom. You are on your own for the first time. At regular college you are away from your parent’s house, but you are not on your own, you are constantly surrounded by friends. When you are abroad, especially if it’s a big city like London, you are definitely on your own. This was exactly what I needed, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

As far as places to study abroad, that depends on the person and what they want out of the experience. Florence, Seville, Paris, London, and Australia are the most popular places to go. I always suggest London for first timers like I was because it’s a great base.

First, they speak English which makes life easier. It is the hub of Europe and you can travel anywhere for relatively cheap. It is a great city of the world and teaches you to be mature and gives you valuable life experiences from the people you meet and the different culture. And of course you don’t have to be 21 to drink!

It was 13 years ago for me that I flew out to London and in fact this exact date 13 years ago I was prepping for a trip to Barcelona and had just gotten back from Amsterdam. I was living in a sweet flat with 3 other guys; Mike; a crazy lunatic from Cincinnati who feasted obsessively on spreadable sausage and McDonalds; and a guy who ran for Governor of Maryland last election and was actually endorsed by Sarah Palin-shocker he didn’t win!

It was the best experience of my life and it should be mandatory that everyone do it. In fact, I liked it so much that when I got my MBA, I studied abroad again in Mexico, Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia and I wish I had another reason to go back because I would in a heartbeat!

In life, we don’t regret the things we do; we regret the things we didn’t do. Some of my best friends say to this day, their biggest regret in life was not studying abroad.

There’s nothing to it but to do it!

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  1. I studied abroad to Florence for a whole year junior year and like you, it changed my life and perspective. Good article an I agree, my children will have mandatory abroad time.

  2. I went to Bond down on the Gold Coast, Australia. It was an amazing experience that I highly recommend!!!!

  3. Lee, good story and I completely agree! I also went to London although I am a bit older than you. I lived over in Marble Arch and loved every second of life in London. It was 20 years ago but I would give up my house to go back!

  4. 1998 was an amazing year in baseball. Too bad it’s been so tainted.

  5. Good post…loved my abroad time in Sevilla

  6. Best time of my life for sure. I was in Paris and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything!

  7. Study abroad in Buenos Aires changed my life. I now live in BA and never would have even come here if it weren’t for my schools program here junior year. Good story and thanks for bringing back memories!

  8. Sosa is such a roided up asshole and McGwire has sort of made amends but I still hate him. Yes I am from Chicago!

  9. Funny that you were once afraid to fly, coming from someone that has now been to Europe 50+ times and just about every other ultra-long haul you can think of.

  10. Glad I could bring some of you back and yes 1998 is tainted but it was still an amazing year in sports, especially baseball. I was terrified to get on that plane; Mike and I laugh about that now but luckily they had plenty of Red Stripe on that Virgin Atlantic plane!

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