While talking recently with a friend of mine here in the ISA Meknes program, we somehow got to the subject of the personal growth and change which is so often associated with studying abroad. Although we have both enjoyed our time in Meknes greatly and do not regret our choice to study abroad here for a minute, there have been challenging moments. I was telling my friend that I felt a certain amount of pressure to go home and only talk about the positive parts of studying abroad. Sometimes I feel as though if I’m not loving every minute of my study abroad experience, I’m somehow doing “studying abroad” wrong. But my friend’s response to my frustration was one which I will never forget.
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot,” she said, “and I think that when people talk about studying abroad a lot of the time they’re wrong. Everyone thinks that studying abroad changes you, that you come back a different person. But that’s not it at all. Studying abroad doesn’t make you a different person; it makes you learn to live with yourself. When you’re out of your comfort zone for such a long period of time, you have to rely on yourself and be with yourself more than you’ve ever had to before.”
For a minute, I was speechless, because what my friend had said was what I had been searching for throughout the semester. I don’t feel like a different person having studied abroad; I just feel more like myself. I feel like studying abroad has allowed me to explore all the nooks and crannies of my own personality. I understand what I want and don’t want for my life in the future, I know what kind of people I want to spend my time with, and perhaps above all else I understand more than ever before that I can adapt and be resilient even when challenges arise.
Studying abroad is truly an incredible experience, where life lessons are interwoven in the most unexpected of places. From serious lessons of conquering fears—such as I experienced during my trip to the Caves of Friouato—to more light-hearted lessons like my moment of enlightenment in Taghazout, in the south of Morocco, where I learned that dropping out of school to become a professional surfer might not be the best career choice for me. I couldn’t be more grateful for my experience in Morocco, but when I come home I won’t be talking about how it changed me. Instead, I’ll be talking about the things Morocco taught me about myself. Ultimately I think that studying abroad has taught me that getting out of your comfort zone is important, because sometimes it’s only when you have nothing familiar to cling to that you learn to cling to yourself.
The world awaits…discover it.