Studying Abroad, More Broadly

As my third year at Sarah Lawrence commences, friends and professors began to ask why I am not studying abroad, only to stop themselves mid-sentence. “Well, you are technically abroad,” they say before chuckling.

A few years ago, whilst touring college campuses, the idea of studying abroad in college began popping into my mind. “I wanna go,” I’d say to my parents, though I had no idea where I would go to. The idea quickly latched on to the already romanticized one of college. Studying abroad seemed like a wonderful escape of the four-year construct of college. On top of that, one gets to travel, attend another school, meet new people, and receive worldly exposure. However, it was not an idea that most of my friends, (i.e. other Indonesian students across America) entertained. We were technically already going to be abroad. The concept also seems to be more American-centric. Rarely do community schools, where many of my Indonesian peers attend, promote this idea.

When the time came, I had lost the drive to study abroad.

But I often ask myself, whether being an international student, “studying abroad in the U.S.,” is equal to studying abroad during college. To be honest, it seems unlikely that the two experiences match at all. Studying abroad during college commonly involves going on an adventure with other students from your “home school.” In addition to making new friends, one often strengthen bonds with other students from the same school in the U.S. Whilst, I came to Sarah Lawrence without any prior friendships. I was propelled to make new friends and learn the system as I expected to remain in the same school for four years.

That is, perhaps, another difference between studying abroad and being an international student. The former usually is completed in half a year or one year at most, therefore many friends observed that they tended to be more impulsive and risky in their behavior. As an international student, I tend to stay within the safety zone, obeying rules just to avoid being deported or sanctioned.

For me, everything boiled down to the bigger plan. Hoping to accelerate my schooling, I decided to sacrifice studying abroad in order to graduate earlier and get to grad school at a faster pace. At the beginning of the school year I, admittedly, missed my best friends who are now scattered in Europe. I found solace, however, in seeing new faces that had been away during the previous year.

College is clearly a roller coaster ride, full of surprises and free-falls. Each year is different in its own way. Rarely do our decisions lead to grave consequences, but they do seem to shape identity. Being an international student and studying abroad are two completely different opportunities. If I had lived another life, you would find me currently in a foreign country, pursuing the unknown.

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