Seville, Spain. Photo by the author
As I near the end of my high school career, I’ve begun to realize a number of regrets. I wish I’d joined the cross-country team freshman year, rather than chickening out. I wish that I had gotten involved in Model UN, as I have suddenly become interested in it late in the game. But most of all—and even though I still have study abroad opportunities ahead of me in college—I wish I had studied abroad more in high school.
This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month in Seville, Spain, through CIEE’s High School Summer Abroad Program. The experience was transformative, and I learned more about Spanish and about myself in that month than I had in any year in high school. I can only imagine how much more I would have grown if I had been abroad for a semester or longer.
Studying abroad introduced me to incredible people from all over. Not only did I have stimulating conversations with Spaniards, but I also found myself among intelligent, open-minded students from across the United States. Aided by the rich history of Andalucía, these people exposed me to fascinating art, subjects, and ideas and I gained a new worldly perspective.
An obvious benefit to going abroad is immersion. Even if you have no intention to study the language or culture of the region you visit, it is inevitable. In Seville, I learned Spanish in a way that is impossible in the classroom. Along with knowledge of the language came familiarity with the cuisine and values of my homestay family and their city.
There are a lot of reasons why I didn’t study abroad for a longer time. It can be expensive, of course, which is why I spent months researching different travel organizations to find a highly esteemed one with substantial scholarships. But more than finances, it can be scary, especially when traveling to a country that speaks a different language. Yes, it is scary to leave home for the first time, but that’s exactly why you should study abroad in high school. It’s the first step to embracing fear and learning to overcome it—something that you will face again down the road when you head to college. Growing comfortable in another part of the world also opens up a part of you that gives you more confidence and opportunity because you find you can thrive in an unfamiliar environment far from home.
So whether you choose to do service, immerse yourself in a language or culture, or study a specific career field abroad, be it domestic or international, make sure you project yourself into the world. You will find yourself in a new community and among new traditions, and the relationships, self-awareness, and cultural perspective you gain will be priceless.