For five weeks last winter, I lived in the Peruvian Amazon. Working at an ecological reserve near the village of Chontachaka, I slept with a howler monkey. I wielded a machete against groves of bamboo with fiendish glee and became quite adept at using the blade to trim my fingernails. I experienced an earthquake, and fried oreos by candlelight. I had to evacuate due to flooding that swept away our bridge and zipline, and followed a shaman who taught us about traditional medicine. I hiked two hours in one direction with machete in my belt loop and a single plant in my waistband to try and save a trail swept away in a landslide, only to realize just how isolated we really were.
If you had told me three years ago that I would be going to Peru, I would have died laughing. In a scholarship application that I wrote my senior year of high school, I wrote that I wanted to go to western Europe. That was what I knew; my high school took trips every spring, and my grandmother took me when she returned to London to visit friends when I was 14. But when I got into college, my experiences in classes and the stories of others who had had deeply personal experiences abroad reformed my opinions.
My grandfather worked for the oil business in the 50s and 60s and travelled all over the world, until he met my grandmother in Tripoli where she taught English for the British Council. From a very young age, I listened to their stories of their time abroad and their adventures that they pursued even after they retired, going to Thailand, Oman, Arabia, Kenya, Libya, Western Europe, and countless others.
My grandfather died yesterday. And as I reflect on the lessons I learned from him, what stands out the most is the importance of going abroad and engaging in that community. You can go to a country and participate in a superficial way, eating solely at western restaurants and staying within the expatriate community. But why? Study abroad is scary, and that’s a good thing. That’s how we grow. Study abroad takes the stars out of your eyes and guides you to have experiences that irrevocably change who you are.
I can encourage you to study abroad for many reasons, but nothing can take the place of your own internal motivation. So, go. Be scared. Eat the street food and haggle with vendors. Take public transportation and line up with locals and do something every day that terrifies you, for those are the memories and experiences that will undoubtedly change your life in unimaginable ways.