Watters: Study abroad decision more than selecting a country


Arabella Watters, Columnist

As a college student, I think that I’m allowed the occasional existential musing. Taking yourself too seriously seems like a prerequisite to the amount of growing up that we go through during our four short years at Northwestern. That being said, the crisis I’m contemplating is where to send my application for study abroad for Fall Quarter. The first thing that’s tripping me up is the fact that it’s 2013, and I’ll be graduating in two years.

Study abroad means that I only have one more fall left on campus. Fall is a time at Northwestern I think every person embraces with arms wide open. The weather is crisp, idyllic and promotes the peaceful falling of leaves in incendiary colors of gold and crimson. Football season makes it impossible to spot anyone not in purple, and the long four-month stretch of summer makes everything and everyone on our campus shine a little bit brighter.

The only image in my head for next fall is a nebulous picture of getting lost on a foreign street. I have enough trouble getting my homework done without trying to bridge a language barrier. I can’t fathom how to simultaneously adjust to life in another country while also getting over the idea that I’m not at Northwestern.

It seems like where to go would be an easy choice. The world is a myriad of diverse cultures, each offering an entirely singular experience. There isn’t really a wrong choice, so why do I feel so torn up?

I’ve vacillated between Europe, Oceania, Asia, Africa, back to Europe again, to the Middle East for a second, Northern Africa looks cool, but what about New Zealand? Pardon my stream of consciousness, but I think that the choice of where to study bears a lot more on not what kind of person I’m going to become, but what kind of experiences I want to have. When I turn twenty next month, I feel like I’m losing the cushioning that I used to have to make decisions based only on the happiness they’ll give me.

As an adult, should I be making choices because they’re rational? Should my decisions be predicated on whether or not they’ll move me out of my comfort zone? I wonder if I’m being too cynical. Perhaps adulthood isn’t about letting go of frivolity. Maybe it’s about learning to balance the pragmatic parts of ourselves with the parts that still secretly remain stagnant at ten years old. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned while I’ve been at school, it’s that looking at things in black and white is never a good policy; polarizing parts of yourself is less productive and more painful.

I might be getting overly philosophical here about study abroad, but choosing where to go — whether it’s a country so foreign to me that America couldn’t seem more far away or choosing a place where I’m more comfortable than confused — it’s a decision that’s big for anyone. Just remember, as I’m trying to as I ruminate over my next 12 months, balance is key.

Arabella Watters is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].