The benefits of studying abroad
Many people say that travel is the only thing money can buy that makes a person richer. While my empty pockets might not support this statement, I definitely agree after spending this past semester studying architecture in Italy and traveling to 10 other countries along the way.
That being said, studying abroad gave me much more than I bargained for. It gave me new eyes, a new way of seeing things. I left the states for the first time in my life back in January with what I thought was an open mind and a clear grip on the world in which we live. I couldn’t have been more blind. I had no idea just how big and wide and deep the world could be. I thought I was big and important, yet we as individuals are so small in comparison to the world around us.
Traveling abroad was like hitting a “reset” button. Every new place pushed me out of my comfort zone. In day-to-day life it’s easy to fall into the routine of just getting by, but upon being forced out of my comfort zone, I could feel life pushing me closer and closer toward the role for which I was created. The opportunity to truly see — and not just look — presents itself in these moments. Therefore, travel, exploration and experiencing are necessary elements for human growth. Such experiences create new questions while answering old ones at the same time. Not only do we develop our own selves, we also contribute to the world when we take our new ways of seeing to our own homes and beyond.
Whether it was during the required independent travel or while visiting the beautiful Italian cities on a Tuesday field studies class, studying abroad brought many opportunities to encounter other cultures. Eating fresh focaccia and pesto pasta for lunch in Italy, discussing prices over tea in the Turkish market, being blessed by the Pope in Rome, visiting the La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, and every other adventure made this past semester diverse and rich in experiences.
Feeling fulfilled was easy when every day brought something new. Then something profound hit me. Whether in South Carolina or Italy, living is living. This might sound like an obvious point, but I remember when I first realized this while abroad. Traveling to new places is only learning new ways of living. It’s so easy to think of traveling as a vacation where we can relax and impose our own lifestyle on the places that we are visiting. In reality, it is us experiencing new cultures, peeking into the everyday lives of our own brothers and sisters.
This past semester clearly taught me that experiencing is necessary for any education, but especially for an education in architecture. [pullquote align=’right’ font=’oswald’ color=’#685C53′]Seeing the Acropolis or the Coliseum was grander than any lesson, and visiting the ruins of Pompeii gave a glimpse into history better than any textbook ever could.[/pullquote] In studying architecture, one encounters much history, art, culture and an understanding of the way people live. Every piece of effective and historic architecture truly belongs to its own place, and studying them brought insight to those new places.
Besides giving new eyes with each experience, studying abroad granted me a newfound sense of independence. It reinforced the skills gained when I walked out of my parents’ arms and made my first steps onto Clemson’s campus as a freshman three short years ago. I remember my high school self being just as intimidated by college as I was by any European form of public transportation in January. Living in a new place allowed me to live in the moment more, relying on my own devices. Without independence, one couldn’t survive a few days, much less a whole semester in a foreign country.
I learned this quickly when a group of us decided to go skiing in the Alps. After skiing across the border from Italy into Switzerland, I somehow got separated from my friends. I frantically searched around and began to panic. Where were my friends? Why did I lose them? How would I get home? I knew I had two options: cry or keep skiing. Maybe I did a little of both, but in the end I decided to keep skiing. As I made my way through the snowy mountains, I had this moment of self-empowerment where I threw up my ski poles and let a loud “WOOOHOOOO” escape from the inner depths of my emotions. No doubt the people around me thought I had lost it, and maybe I had, but it was in that moment that I felt completely independent. If I could do this — what I had thought to be impossible only moments earlier — what else could I accomplish in my life?
To say that this past semester was the best of my entire educational career is an understatement. These experiences will stay with me forever, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunities Clemson has given me. Studying abroad brought new eyes, new perspectives, independence and a realization of what’s important. Then again, these opportunities are there for the taking every day no matter where we are; we just have to remember to take them.
It’s safe to say that studying abroad was more than a good investment, and even with my empty pockets, I feel richer than ever.
Kathleen Peek is a senior architecture major from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.