Studying abroad or staying local

kayla-brown

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I know I am not the only one who has returned from a trip abroad having been bitten by the travel bug. It’s infectious, it’s insidious, and it leaves you with an insatiable desire for more.

More of what, exactly?

Of course, the obvious answer would be more traveling. But what if we dig deeper? Beneath exotic street food and picturesque landscapes, what exactly do we want more of?

It took several summers for me to eventually ask and answer these more nuanced questions, and doing so has arguably been just as valuable — if not more valuable — than my actual time spent abroad.

Novelty is at the core of traveling somewhere new, and crossing borders and oceans marks a descent into the unknown. We are forcefully removed from the familiarity of our everyday lives, and if familiarity breeds contempt, then unfamiliarity must ignite curiosity. When we say “I need a vacation,” what we are really saying is, “I crave excitement.” This has more to do with ourselves — our mindset and how we view our immediate surroundings — than whatever far-off location we wish to visit.

I did not realize this while hiking volcanoes in Guatemala or riding songthaews through Southeast Asia. These experiences, while important and exhilarating, were only the beginning of a journey I am still on. In fact, looking back, most of my growth has happened domestically, as this is where I began to fully understand the value of my past travels.

I was initially disappointed to spend my final summer at home before leaving for UC Berkeley. Having embarked on trips abroad for the past several years, I did not know what to expect. But I ultimately accepted reality, deciding I would make the most of my time at home. I made a conscious effort to step outside my comfort zone, and this resulted in a newfound appreciation for my immediate surroundings.

By traveling or studying abroad, we are forcibly removed from our comfort zone because that is our only option. But the land you consider foreign is always home to someone else. And if this land were your home, would you still walk the streets with the same level of wonder and enchantment? Would you still be snapping hundreds of photos of street vendors and national monuments? Probably not. What this reveals is that the location itself is not always as important as we like to think it is.

I realized that my obsession with globetrotting did not necessarily stem from a need to explore new locations, but a need to continuously challenge myself and expand my worldview. By fleshing this out, I was able to separate my experiences from the destinations themselves.

Travel was merely a vehicle through which self-reflection and self-improvement took place for me, and because of this, I realized that the vacation never really ends. While we may put away our physical suitcases, we continue to carry invisible ones with us, and they hold all of the knowledge, insight and personal growth that continue to shape the way we live our day-to-day lives. This dialectical process of self-reflection has ultimately cured my “travel bug.”

It’s not that I don’t wish to travel anymore — I do. But, I also know that I no longer need to leave the country to make the most of my experiences. I already have everything I need. And so, this is the attitude I have carried into my first semester here at UC Berkeley. Although this school is an unimpressive 20 miles away from my hometown, I cannot help but reflect upon how my first few weeks here seemed to parallel my experiences abroad. That newness and unfamiliarity — being outside my comfort zone once again — was part of what made the beginning of my time on campus so much fun. But as this newness begins to wear off and I find myself falling into a similar routine, I must remind myself again and again that if I am to make the most of my time here, I must continue to prioritize stepping out of my comfort zone, in whatever form that takes right here in my new home.

It can be easy to fall into the routine of our everyday lives: school, work, extracurriculars. It is normal to feel uninspired and bored with our immediate surroundings — to crave excitement. Studying abroad boasts many benefits and can be a great way to experience something new, but it is not the only way. For those of us who do not have the time or resources to study abroad, we must learn to make the most of our immediate surroundings by consciously choosing to grow, expand and resist monotony. And for those of us who can study abroad, we must do so knowing that the “exotic” or “foreign” land we are visiting is merely foreign to us. In doing so, we learn to appreciate the smallest of moments and acknowledge how much we have yet to learn about ourselves and the world we are a part of.

Contact Kayla Brown at [email protected].