Sitting in a large, bright classroom, with a hundred students spread out evenly from front to back, and a lone professor standing at the front reading a magazine, I crossed my T’s and dotted my I’s and realized… I just finished my test.
I have taken many tests during my time as a college student, and this one was certainly no more profound than any other, but there was still something special about this one: it was my last test in Italy. I took a minute to shake my cramped hand and collect my thoughts after dedicating two hours of my life to Entrepreneurial Strategies of Small and Medium Enterprises. I finally stood up, and a smile of relaxation came over my face, as I walked up to the front of the room feeling like a proud warrior coming home from battle. Two weeks of studying every day (to make up for a semester of general slacking) had taken its toll on me physically, mentally, and emotionally, but now I had no further responsibilities. I was free as a bird, but surprisingly, I wasn’t in an extreme rush to celebrate. The normal drive to celebrate and jump for joy was replaced by the reality that, after a couple of short days to say goodbye, I would be going home.
As I left the classroom and walked into the main lobby of this once-daunting school building that now seemed like a second home, I stood alone, and I thought back to the first time I had walked in 4 months ago. I channeled that nervous, excited, curious kid and thought about how much I had changed in the past semester. With trips to some of the most incredible places in the world, building relationships with people with diverse backgrounds from around the world, and by experiencing life in another country, I realized I had grown as a person. It happened quite gradually, but now I felt more powerful and knowledgeable. I was no longer isolated and green, but was instead affected by the experience of traveling the world and living in another country. I knew things about places I had never even heard of before, and that knowledge made me feel strong and valuable. I gained insight into world issues, and was able to connect to those around me in a way that I had never done before. I learned that the world is truly full of diverse cultures which all should be appreciated and respected.
While I learned so much about the world around me, I had also learned a lot about myself.
As I returned home and was suddenly dropped back into my old life, I realized that I was coming back into it on my own terms. Seeing life in another place, from another perspective, forced me to think about my own life and what was really important to me. I did a lot of maturing on that trip, and I realized that there were things I was doing in my old life I wanted to change, and some things that I realized I wanted to fight to keep. Seeing first hand that the world was not Medford, New Jersey, Richmond, Virginia, or even solely the United States of America made me view the world, and my life in that world, in a new light.
My transition back into American life is nearly complete now, and has been strong and successful. I have been able to re-strengthen past relationships with friends and loved ones and am happy with where I am in my life. I feel rejuvenated and want to be even more active in affecting the world around me. As a friend, as a son, as a student, as a boyfriend, as a brother, as a grandson, as a player, and as a leader — I want to do it all better.
Around campus, answering the question, “Hey man, how was abroad?” leads to my usual answer of, “It was amazing, dude — such a great time,” but what I really want to say is, “It changed my life. It gave me incredible memories and experiences I could never have dreamed of having, and allowed me to feel like part of a bigger world.”
So while I will always have my memories of seeing London, Dublin, Venice, Rome, Florence, Budapest, Amsterdam, Munich, Cinque Terre, and Lake Como, and meeting people from Spain, Germany, France, Australia, Portugal, Brazil, England, Italy, America, and Canada in my program, the final thing that I will take from this experience is learning more about myself and about my life.
Ever since I was a freshman in high school I dreamed of studying abroad in college, as I believed that it would be an amazing experience that I would remember for the rest of my life… and I was right. I am quite glad I got to live out this dream, which allowed me to truly grow, and get a better understanding and appreciation for the world around me.