Even though I returned from studying abroad more than 4 months ago, I continue to be profoundly surprised at the way those experiences impact my life even still. I know, the common responses to "how was it" are either: "it changed my life!!!!!" or "it was the best decision I've ever made!!!!" Well...it's true. And these are just some small reasons why.
I'm taking Music Appreciation this semester. Having been in band before I expected it to be more of a blow-off class, something I wouldn't really spend a lot of time studying. Instead, it's become one of my favorite classes, and not just because I am learning a ton of things about music, but also because the backgrounds of composers have solid meaning for me now. I wrote something in my early posts about our first solo trip to Austria. After seeing Salzburg, I wasn't surprised that Mozart composed his amazing music. This was the beginning for me to realize that what we see goes through our eyes into our bodies and souls and doesn't just stay there. Where we are impacts us but also changes us enough to be reflected in our actions and goals.
We talked today about Smetana, a Czech composer, and listened to one of his pieces, Moldau, that actually tells the story of a trip along a river that flows through Prague. I stood on the Charles Bridge, overlooking that river. These pieces have such meaning to me now. Not just that I can identify where they came from-- you can feel the nature of a city, those intangible things that make Paris Paris, or Tuscany Tuscany, coursing through a piece that took something from its surroundings, intentional or not. I know that whatever I do, and the kind of person I am, has taken something from those varied and beautiful surroundings I encountered last semester.
People really are products of their surroundings. I know, I know, being in psychology means that I have to acknowledge heritability and genetics and biology and sure those things play a role. But in expression, in life events, in goals...people reflect the places they have been. Did it take this semester abroad for me to realize this? Yes. I think part of the reason is that I have always been hesitant to be "proud to be an American." Honestly, I'm not all that patriotic. Nationalism was always something that it was hard for me to grasp in history class. However I am starting to understand. Like it or not, the person I am and the actions I take are going to be influenced by my living here. That is another thing studying abroad does for you. You are forced to see your country from far away. Sometimes we are too close to things to see their flaws-- OR to see what is so great about them!
Studying abroad tests you. Traveling tests you. I have said to some that I have learned more about myself in that semester than I thought I could know about myself. The effects of lack of sleep, physical exhaustion, and stress really come out when you are in an unfamiliar place. I had to be vulnerable and honest, because let's face it, being with a group of people nonstop for a month means you can't really hide anything. But that's what is soooo good about this challenge- you grow because of it. You learn to twist your lack-of-sleep-grumpies into a chance to find something beautiful or wonderful in that moment instead...and that makes you appreciate it all the more.
What I mean to say is, study abroad = good. So do it.
ALSO fyi! You can click on any picture on this blog and a larger size photo will pop up in a new tab. I have to make the in-text ones smaller now since well Blogger says I am running out of space!