I grew up in military family so I'm really used to moving around. I've learned to love traveling, meeting new people, trying new things, and just being able to start anew. I really wanted to keep that trend going in college. While being in the same place for 4 years has its perks, I really wanted to branch out of the Duke University bubble, leave my comfort zone, and refresh myself after 2 years of studies at Duke, that were anything but easy. Going abroad provided me with an opportunity to do all of this.
I had the incredible opportunity to study at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia for a semester. I didn't go through an external American study abroad program or a program with my college. Instead I applied directly to the University, got in, and went there as an unaffiliated international study abroad student. UNSW has a relatively large international student population (50000 students from over 120 countries) so I wasn't completely overwhelmed with being an outsider in a new country. However, I really liked being able to feel like a regular Australian university student instead of an American student who just happened to be studying in a different country, if that makes sense. The disadvantage of not being connected to an external program, though, was the fact that I had to figure out my own academic plan, housing, and meal plan by myself before going abroad.
At Duke, I am lucky enough to be on a Navy ROTC scholarship, which pays completely for my tuition, books, and any related academic fees). I was able to get the Navy to continue my academic funding while I was abroad, so my tuition, books, and study abroad fees were basically free, which was nice. What I did have to pay for was my housing, wifi in my apartment, and food. Every year I've taken out a student loan to offset the expenses that my ROTC scholarship doesn't cover so I did the same for my semester abroad. I know my situation is not typical and may be hard to identify with. However, I have a lot of friends who also were able to study abroad without external scholarships. Typically universities offer great financial aid that also extends to study abroad or international academic programs. There are also countless scholarships out there for every single field of study or situation you can think of. Apply for them! And if you don't get one scholarship, just try for another. I had a friend who was able to go to Russia this summer through a study abroad program and everything was completely paid for though a scholarship she applied for.
I honestly wish I would have known how expensive Sydney was going to be before I went. Because the minimum wage and general living standard in Sydney are both higher than in the US, everything was SO EXPENSIVE. I wish I would have budgeted more properly before I left or looked more thoroughly into getting a job while I was there. It would have been great to have had information regarding getting a job before hand because even if things weren't expensive and I didn't need the money, getting a job would have been great for my professional development and contributed a lot to my experience abroad.
Going into it, I thought that studying abroad in Australia wouldn't be very different than studying in the United States. However, once I got there, I honestly felt serious culture shock. In most settings, I was one of the only person of color. It really made me rethink what it meant to be a person, or in my case, a woman of color and I think it was really great for my personal development.
I had so many incredible moments abroad--it's hard to just choose one. If I had to pick one though, I would probably pick the 20 seconds of terrifying thrill I felt while bungee jumping for the first time. I experienced so many firsts while abroad and bungee jumping was just one. I just really wanted to experience new things and leave every sense of fear behind. Bungee jumping was just an outward depiction of that for me.
STUDY ABROAD! If you have the opportunity, do NOT turn it down. Don't let negative circumstances impede you. If its money, search for scholarships. If its negative criticism from those who studied abroad in the past, don't listen to them if studying abroad is something you really want to do. If its fear of being outside of your comfort zone, just take a chance.
If you get the opportunity to study abroad, find ways to never forget about your experiences. Getting back to the hustle and bustle of American life and studying at American universities can be stressful and its easy to just forget about all the things that you learned abroad and made your experience so special. Don't let that happen. Make sure that your study abroad experiences continue to positively shape your life, even after you come back home.