Throughout most of high school, I never had much of a desire to study abroad. I was content in the U.S., and Indiana was home to me. During my senior year of high school, however, my older brother traveled to Spain for a semester. Watching his experience, even through the screen of my iPhone, sparked a desire in me to see what’s out there.
During my sophomore year of college, I was made aware of a May-term trip to Ireland. Ireland – that sounds incredible, I thought to myself. Although excitement swarmed my mind, so did fear. That is so far away. And three weeks is a long time to be gone.
I let the idea linger in my mind for a couple weeks, and finally I just decided to take a leap of faith. I woke up one morning, emailed my professor and signed up for the trip.
When May 7th finally arrived, I couldn’t have been more excited. On our trip were eight students and two professors who were married. Aside from being introduced to people during our Ireland meetings leading up to the trip, I didn’t know anyone. In a certain way, I was happy. This was going to be the time I got to just get away, explore a new country and make completely new friends.
Over the next three weeks, my eyes were opened and my heart was truly changed. Today, I am a huge advocate for studying abroad, and I am already in the process of planning a semester-long stay in Europe during my senior year. This dramatic shift in my way of thinking came from the various experiences I had and the relationships I built during my time in the land of the four-leaf clover.
(Photo by Legend Johnson)
The first reason I tell people to study abroad if they get the chance is because of how it can broaden your perspective on life. I think a lot of times we grow up thinking that there is us and there are others. As I would speak to people from all over the world, I kept coming to the realization that, although we come from completely different backgrounds, we are fundamentally the same; we seek community and friendship. That desire is universal.
Ireland taught me that I must never settle in life. There is so much out there, so if you’re not happy where you’re at, make a change. I remember the moment that it occurred to me, I could actually live here. Although I doubt that Ireland will ever be my long-term home, it was liberating to know that it could be. I don’t have to remain in my small town, I don’t have to stay in Indiana, and I don’t have to raise my future family in the states. It may sounds cliché, but the world really is your oyster.
Traveling stretches you beyond belief, and, in the process, you learn so much about yourself. I learned the extent of my desire for social situations while also discovering my body’s fundamental need for rest. There were moments walking in downtown Dublin where my body was physically exhausted but my mind was reaching for every new experience. You are forced to learn how to reconcile your mind and your body, and this is a lesson that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life—schooling, career and my future adventures.
While in Ireland, my newfound interest in social justice basically smacked me in the face. Prior to this trip, I honestly couldn’t care less about politics or the “big issues.” Beginning to see the world from a different perspective and meeting people from all walks of life made me start to crave to understand how this world works and how our various forms of government and systems function. With that, my passion to advocate for people and promote change also developed.
I remember the first time I heard the term “takeaway” instead of “to-go” at a local coffee shop. Little interactions like this make you realize that “the ways things are” are oftentimes only the way things are in just one place. I couldn’t help but realize the bits of ethnocentrism present in my previous mindset. When you begin to see the world as a whole, instead of “here” and “there,” you realize that there is much to learn from those around you. For me personally, I was humbled to a position where I am much more willing to learn from and listen to those around me.
Lastly, Ireland gave me a new zest for life. Not everyone has the resources or opportunities to travel, and that makes me sad. But you don’t necessarily need to travel far to learn about the world and about people. Since returning back to the states, I find myself frequently ordering books from Amazon (I was never a reader before) and looking up new places to explore close to home. To learn is to grow. To think is to be transformed. And that, my friend, is completely free.
Hi, my name is Carly Baumgartner, and I am an upcoming junior at one of ICI’s private colleges, where I’m double majoring in Strategic Communications and Media Communications. My hobbies include traveling, writing, art, enjoying time on the lake, and spending time with people. I plan to go to graduate school to pursue a career in social justice. Until then, I’ll be sitting here, blogging and sipping my Diet Coke.