How Study Abroad Changed Me

By Elizabeth Nachbar, '15 | All photos courtesy of author

“How did study abroad change you?”

“It helped me become…” no wait, that’s so cliche.

“Well, it…” no, that sounds pretentious.

Studying in Ireland gave me the opportunity to—” ugh, boring.

Um, can I get back to you on that?

I have a tendency to over-think things. When I was asked to write this, I thought, “Yay! This will be so cool! I can totally answer that question!”

And then when I actually sat down to write, I stared at a blank screen for quite a while before coming up with something, only to delete it five minutes later. I think I repeated that process at least 20 times.

It wasn’t that I didn’t change while I was abroad. I did. I know I did. You don’t travel to a different country and live there for four months without doing so.

It’s just that the changes aren’t so obvious…

I don’t have a floating bubble over my head that flashes “Confident!” and “Independent!” and “Travel Lover!” As convenient as that might be when applying for jobs, it would take the mystery and reflection out of life.

“Reflecting” has me sitting in bed on a snowy Saturday morning trying to share those changes I underwent while abroad, which has made me realize a photograph might come in handy…

The beautiful (and slightly terrifying) cliff edge above is at Dun Aonghasa on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway.

Peering over the 330-foot drop on that misty September afternoon was my previous experience with confidence. (Hint: It has to do with falling and not being prepared for the world in general.)

Putting myself out there, trying new things, and speaking in front of large groups was scary, but now I find these things a bit exhilarating.

While I was confident in some things before studying abroad (my cooking and knitting abilities, for example), I now know I can take on a broader array of Things That Used To Make Me Stutter And Turn Bright Red.

Nachbar at Newgrange. This 5,000-year-old passage tomb in County Meath, Ireland, is especially popular during the winter solstice, when the sun falls in a perfectly straight line through the entrance, illuminating the inside.

I’m more confident in my choices (like the decision to join the nerdy gaming world), my friends (including a large number of international students), and my hopes for the future (Loyola’s given me a broad education; I will not be a “starving artist”).

I know that if I hold my head up high and at least seem to know what I’m doing, I’ll get farther than if I stumble along and question every decision.

This growth of confidence is paired with a more developed sense of independence.

When I was surrounded by the open blue skies and green fields of Cork, or when I experienced anonymity in the expanse of London, or wandered Amsterdam’s canals in the early morning quiet… I felt free.

While I was abroad, I had so many more choices in activities, courses, travel, even my personal life.

I learned that I didn’t have to feel guilty about saying “no,” that I had a right to that decision.

I got into better eating habits because I had easier access to fresh food, and I learned that I actually enjoyed solitary trips to the grocery store.

I discovered that studying art history is quite gratifying, especially after writing what turned out to be one of the most demanding papers in my college career so far.

When I spent my last day in Amsterdam alone, I was initially paranoid something horrible would happen, but it turned out to be one of my most enjoyable adventures.

Nachbar poses with her favorite letter in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Traveling around Ireland and to different countries was by far my favorite and most educational experience during my time abroad.

Despite all the hassle of airports, trains, and security, it was worth the wait and lack of sleep.

Being exposed to other cultures, ordering food in a different language, getting up close and personal with a Van Gogh, talking with people from across the world while staying in hostels—all of that and more has now made me want to explore the United States and continue my travels in Europe, Africa, and South America.

I don’t just want to see the world… I want to experience it.

I don’t know if I would be as enthusiastic about travel or as welcoming of new personality traits if I hadn’t studied abroad…

Maybe over time I would have grown more comfortable with unfamiliar situations or become interested in new environments. But I can honestly say I’m happier I went through those changes in a short period of time with people who could relate.

I will never forget or regret studying abroad. Even though my future is uncertain, I know I will continue to change and grow and adventure through life.

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