It was the year 2008. I was a junior at Ohio State University and itching to apply my studies to the real world. Though it wasn’t until January of 2009 that I actually packed my bags and set out to spend a semester abroad, one of the most important aspects of the entire experience took place throughout the second half of the previous year. For it was in June of 2008, thanks to a random poster hanging outside my Spanish class, that I “discovered” study abroad.
With dreams of far-off exotic lands I knew little to nothing about, I made an appointment with an advisor at my study abroad office. I could not have had any idea then, that that appointment, a seemingly imperceptible ripple in my life’s trajectory, would grow into a tidal wave of change sweeping me through the next decade of important life decisions.
As I look back, and although I cannot place all of the credit on any one person in particular (who played the bigger role in getting me to actually go through with my dream of going abroad; myself? My study abroad advisor? Or someone else entirely?), I do know that I owe a lot to my advisor. For as someone I’d never even met before making that appointment, she would end up having the biggest impact on what I would do and where I would end up going.
Where Would I go?
I can just vaguely remember heading to the study abroad office all those years ago. As I was a double major in Spanish and International Studies, I wanted two things. The first was the obvious, to go abroad, and the second, was to become “fluent” in my target language, Spanish. Putting two and two together, the logical move was to go abroad to a Spanish-speaking country. Simple enough, right?
Now let’s add in a few other interests of mine at the time. As a European history buff, I was extremely interested in that particular continent (after all, no one can deny that most History classes in American primary schools tend to focus on this one specific world region) and I had little to no knowledge of our neighbors close by, or what is essentially Latin America. So now let’s reexamine the thoughts I took into the appointment with my study abroad advisor; 1.) I wanted to go abroad, 2.) I wanted to become fluent in Spanish, and 3.) I was interested in, and therefore wanted to go to, Europe. What does this all equal? Well the answer was obvious: Spain. Or was it…?
It’s almost comical now to think about how I went into that appointment so ready and sure of what I wanted and where I was going to go. Heck, I was already telling friends and family I’d be in Spain “in a matter of weeks.” The excitement was palpable. However, as I already mentioned, I didn’t study abroad in Spain that year, or ever. I ended up going to a country I had never even heard much of up until that point in my life: Argentina. And it was one of the best things decisions I have ever made. But what happened during that appointment?
Meeting with a Study Abroad Advisor
Perhaps a few years ago I couldn’t really say what led me to go to a country in a region I knew practically nothing about instead of one in a region I was already deeply interested in. But after a lot of reflection, I can now say that it really came down to one thing: the enthusiasm of my study abroad advisor. Though she may never read this, I send a lot of thanks her way, for she helped open doors for me I didn’t even see were there in my hurry toward what I though was a simple goal.
My advisor’s enthusiasm stemmed from the fact that she had just returned from Argentina, where she helped put together an advanced Spanish program at the Universidad del Gran Rosario and was brimming with excitement about the things she’d seen, tasted, and experienced. She was thrilled to share her experiences and wanted her students to have the same opportunities.
It wasn’t all simple blind enthusiasm, however. She was also knowledgeable in her field. Here’s an interesting statistic: the vast majority of American students studying abroad choose Western Europe (countries such as England, France, Spain, Italy) as their destination of choice and the market in these countries is completely saturated. It is much more admirable and exciting to go somewhere completely new and untrodden. In fact, there are many in the field of education abroad that are pushing for more students to go to “non-traditional” locations. These include Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Do a quick Google search and you will see how many scholarships and incentives there are for students going to non-traditional locations. Even the United States Government has stated it’s desire for more American students to seek out opportunities in nontraditional regions and countries. My advisor knew this even when I had not the slightest clue and pushed me down a path that turned out to be the best I could have taken.
In the end, with her help, enthusiasm, and guidance I applied to the new program in Argentina, was accepted (along with nine other students), and began to prepare for my exciting study abroad opportunity. Before taking off, my advisor held several pre-departure orientations for the ten of us selected to go and I’ll never forget the excitement shared between us all. There truly is no easier time to make friends than when you’re all about to embark on a remarkably unexpected adventure together.
We all grew very close throughout that next semester in Argentina, growing together, learning together, and experiencing the world together. We still keep in touch almost ten years later and I value the experience as one of, if not the, most important of my life. It changed me in so many ways and truly set the course for everything I would go on to do over the next decade.
Change of Direction
Maybe I wasn’t sure what to do with my life before I went abroad and maybe I’m still unsure. Maybe we all are unsure and that’s just a part of what it means to be human. But even if that’s the case, my study abroad experience gave me so much more direction in life than I had before I got on that plane. It led me, both directly and indirectly, through everything I’ve done and accomplished since, to where I am at this very moment as an aspiring study abroad professional.
Sure, I improved my Spanish far greater and at a much faster pace than I ever could have had I not gone abroad, but I also discovered so many other things and the world truly became my oyster (see article: What I Learned from Study Abroad). After graduating in 2010, and thanks to the courage I had gained while in Argentina, I took a job teaching English in Spain (yes, I finally went to Spain!) where I lived for two years in the capital city, Madrid. From there I fulfilled a dream of moving to Paris and studied French for a summer and then moved to South Korea for two years, teaching English and exploring the Far East, another region I had never really known anything about.
What Brought Me Here
All of these amazing adventures I’ve had abroad took courage and independence, two things I have that are directly attributable to my study abroad experience in Argentina. In fact, I’m so sure that my study abroad experience changed my life for the better that I after returning from Korea, I enrolled in a Master’s in International Education program planning to work in study abroad. I want to pay forward what my study abroad advisor paid to me so many years ago. Her desire and enthusiasm to help students realize their dreams of going abroad was contagious. That desire and enthusiasm has led me to pursue a career in international education. I hope to encourage college students who, much like I was when I entered that study abroad office so many years ago, are excited for a life-changing opportunity but unsure of how to make it happen.
Now, as I sit here, recently graduated form grad school and ready to serve in my advisor’s footsteps, I think back to where it all began. And, although in the end it largely came down to my own decisions, determination, and willingness to turn dreams into reality, I owe so many thanks to my advisor, who, however much unbeknownst to her, really was the catalyst and support I needed to embark on the path to my dreams abroad.
Perhaps she did know exactly what she was doing in giving my life direction. Either way, I will never forget that day in her office or that appointment I decided to make on a whim thanks to a simple dream. Nor the “let me propose to you an exciting new option” that would change my life in ways that, at the time, I couldn’t have possibly imagined.
Has your study abroad advisor and experience impacted the direction of your life? Let us know in the comments below!