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5 Things That Happen When You Study Abroad

March 07, 2016
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    Hailey Marino

by Hailey Marino

It didn’t truly hit me that I would be traveling across the world to study abroad until I bought my plane tickets. Over ten thousand miles to Melbourne, Australia with a connection each way in Abu Dhabi. Two continents, three and a half weeks, four credits, and an abundance of life changing experiences. Me, a junior Sociology and Gender Studies double major, dreaming of adventure my whole life, taking this leap of faith and signing up to traveling across the world.

I applied for a three and a half week program during the Winter 2016 semester. Study Abroad programs all vary in timeframe and length, and I chose a shorter program to squeeze in between semesters so I wouldn’t miss time on campus. The great thing about studying abroad as a SUNY student is that you can go easily through programs at any of the 64 SUNY campuses, so when I found the program called Australia Today through Stony Brook, I knew it was perfect. There, I would attend lectures and class discussions about the sociological issues in Australia’s modern political culture three days a week, and attend field trips to landmarks and museums twice a week. Not only would it satisfy a major requirement, but I got to travel across the world to do it!

After studying abroad, I’ve joined the pack of students who passionately and confidently converse with other students interested in it and exclaim excitedly, “You HAVE to go!” Thinking about my experience studying in Melbourne, I want to say that I came back a changed person. However, the feeling of brightness and growth that I feel isn’t me being changed. It’s even better. This feeling is me expanded, metamorphosed, and transformed into a more curious, glaring, and glowing individual. In a lot of ways, I feel like this trip allowed me to cross over into the next phase of my growth in my sense of self.

With this kind of transformation comes a lot of experiences and changes. So, here are the 5 things that happen (or at least that happened to me) when you study abroad.

1) You realize how brave you are.

You’re brave when you’re on your first of two 12-hour flights with relative strangers farther from home than you’ve ever been before, and you’re brave when you wonder what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into. But I felt the bravery on that flight while watching the map of the aircraft flying above Iceland when I realized, I’m flying above Iceland. And in that moment the wonder shined through the tearing in my eyes because all of the sudden, the world was at my fingertips.

You’re brave when you meet the other students on the program and you put yourself out there. No one else goes to Purchase so they don’t know about Sk80′s night in the Stood or Culture Shock weekend but they do know how bad that airline food was. You laugh together about it. You’re brave when you open your heart to new friendships and connection.

You’re brave again when you’re on a weekend trip to Sydney and you’re eating buffet style in the rotating eye over the city with kangaroo stew on the plate in front of you. Yikes.

You’re brave learning to surf in the Pacific Ocean wearing a wetsuit for the first time. You’re brave when you stand on the board and fall off in a fit of laughter and excitement.

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You’re brave when you’re on an adventure speed boat on the Sydney Harbor with the Opera House on the horizon and there’s sea water everywhere and your jeans are soaked. You’re brave screaming with your friends for one more nosedive from the speedboat into the harbor before you go back to the docks. You’re brave when you wonder if Nemo will be found in the mouthfuls of ocean mist you love every moment of.

2) Your study abroad friends become your family.

One of my biggest fears for going abroad through another SUNY program was the social aspect of signing up “alone.” Now, I’m looking back and giggling at my cute naivety and fear of not making friends because not only did I leave Australia with friends, but I left with family.

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Becoming close knit with other students on the program feels inevitable. The shared experiences you have being away from home on this grand adventure of a lifetime creates a recipe for countless beach trips, karaoke nights, group dinners, heart-to-hearts, and laughing until your stomach hurts. Studying abroad introduces you to people who want to experience the world the way you do, as an oyster, also there trying to expand as a student and as an individual as well. These are people who you can trust to love you and support you through this experience at its highs and lows who will understand how dynamic it is. Fostering relationships through an experience studying abroad creates an atmosphere for connection. Put it this way: We all had housing in the same residence building on the same floor only a few doors down from each other, and we had a few sleepovers just for fun anyway.

The last day of my trip, we all bought greeting cards from the University’s bookstore to exchange and write little messages to. We filled them out during our connection in Abu Dhabi on the way home, tears of gratitude in our eyes, and promised not to read them until we were all home. My card is filled with thankfulness, inside jokes, memories shared, and full hearts busting at the seams of togetherness. It’s hanging on my wall above my desk at Purchase, and when I read it I feel so warm.

I even made a kangaroo friend. Sadly, she didn’t sign my card.

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3) You might cry from happiness. Like, a lot.

Okay, to preface, I’m a little bit of a crybaby. Before you judge me, I know you cry when you watch Grey’s Anatomy, too. Yes, even the third time around. And yet, regardless of my knack for exercising my tear ducts, I had no idea the extent to which I would feel my joy in my body overflowing from my seams until I experienced it.
The first time I cried was during a day trip to Great Ocean Road. A few hour trip from University, we spent the night before cooking together and packing food for the day along with beach stuff, sunglasses, hats, and a ton of sunscreen. After a few hours of driving and singing and laughing, we finally arrived to a grassy looking area. We saw a kangaroo, and I didn’t think it could get much better than that.

I was very wrong.

We walked for a moment, laughing and joking with attention on each other instead of our surroundings, and the next thing I knew we were at the coast. I looked up, and this was all I could see:

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In this very moment, I learned that never before have I been breathless. My heart stopped in my body and tears flooded me, I was completely overtaken with a wave of gratitude that the places in my dreams exist, that I am infinite and all is tangible to me.

This moment for me felt like a climax of power and truth. Regardless of anything, here I am in Australia ten thousand miles from home in front of a miracle in physical form, something I thought I’d only see photos of, and I have myself to thank for the choice to apply for this program.

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I thought that feeling was once in a lifetime. Little did I know, three days later I would feel it again when I looked up to see the Sydney Opera House on the horizon of the harbor.

4) You’ll be endlessly inspired.

All I wanted to do during my trip was create. Whether that be writing, painting, singing, dancing, or fantasizing in colorful daydreams about where on this planet I’ll travel to next, when you realize that the world is at your fingertips, double doors begin to open in your brain.

Behind the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city square of Melbourne is an alley filled to the brim with street art done by both professional and amateur artists. From the pavement you walk on to the dumpsters, to the walls up to the very tops of the multi-floor buildings, the entire alley is covered in the physical manifestation of the city’s inspiration. It’s completely legal, and every six months the city has painters come and wipe the slate clean completely, allowing new artwork to arise.

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For me, this felt like a metaphor for the ways that I can endlessly re-create myself as a student and as an individual. On this trip, my mind was opened so widely and inspired so deeply that I knew I would come back to Purchase with a new perspective. Being back on this campus after having such a wonderful and positive experience abroad shows me that wherever I go, I have the tools to transform and grow, always remembering Purchase as my roots and being grateful for the experiences I cultivated.

My last night in Melbourne, I took to the wall and replicated a mural of a bird I painted on my bedroom wall at my family home, which is now up for sale. 10,353 miles apart are two identical birds that will both be painted over in six months. The creative inspiration from the city paved a way in my brain to make my artistic mark in the world, and I know sitting here writing this in my room on campus at Purchase that ten thousand miles away and 15 hours ahead is a little yellow bird with my name inside of it. That won’t ever get old.

5) Last, but not least, you’ll grow and evolve into the next phase of your truest self.

If you haven’t noticed from the way I’ve been describing this, studying abroad changed my perspective of the world I live in. Not only did it expand my understanding of my major as a sociologist studying the social world, but it also deepened my sense of self. I have this experience to thank for the growth and expansion I underwent as a young person blossoming into the world.

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Through studying abroad, I gained a great deal of insight toward my own desires around my future as a student and as a graduate. I know now that I want to attend graduate school abroad, and I’ll be looking into taking advantage of Birthright to Israel in 2017 after graduating. I was exposed to so many different types of career paths in sociology and other fields that interest me that involve international affairs and traveling abroad. I’m grateful for the endless inspiration.

Personally, I learned that opportunities are endless. Not only does being a student mean that I have countless resources available to me shaping my experiences and granting me an abundance of possibilities, but choosing to study abroad is a choice to see what else is out there. It’s a choice to explore and learn and grow into yourself and your major. When I stood at the 12 Apostles at Great Ocean Road and cried like a child with gratitude, I learned that the world is at my fingertips, and all I have to do is make it happen. As students, we have so much capability and agency to cultivate brilliance and to change the world with our power and knowledge. I truly believe that studying abroad helped water the seed of power and knowledge inside of me.

So, yes, I’m one of those study abroad returners who will look at you and say, “You HAVE to go!”

I’ll say it passionately and confidently. Thanks to studying abroad this winter, my eyes are opened in ways I always dreamed of, and my heart feels so full with the memories I’ll hold for the rest of my life. This experience has touched places so deep within my heart and consciousness in ways I’ll be eternally grateful for, and I’ll always thank my lucky stars for aligning me with it.

Looking for a sign to apply to study abroad? Well, this is it.

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