Introduction: Why I am Studying Abroad (posted by Jimmy in England)

This is for all the dreamers out there.  Please take a seat; I want to tell you a story.  My name is Jimmy and I am from the best city in the world… Buffalo, New York.  I am in my third year at the University of Richmond and somehow I am about to board a plane for London.  This year I will be taking my talents to the University of Oxford.  It’s not South Beach and I am not Lebron James, but I feel just about as good as anybody that has the ability to move to Miami and play for the Heat.  (If you don’t get the corny joke, YouTube ‘Lebron James Decision’)   I am currently sitting in Dulles International Airport waiting to start a long journey that will end in late June.  Over the next 9 months, I will be studying in the Biochemistry department at Oxford.  But this post is not about the future, it’s about the past.  It’s about how I got here, an hour and a half away from starting a journey that will change my life.

It all started last December after I had finished my final exams.  I had just started the long ten hour drive from the beautiful UR campus back home to Buffalo, NY.  I like the long drives because it allows me to decompress after a challenging semester of college.  This time, I spent a good amount of the drive wondering if I had made the right decision.  Before I get to that decision let me explain one thing.  I had never wanted to study abroad.  I am a manager for our Men’s Basketball program, and never wanted to miss part of the season with the team.  The official season for college basketball runs from mid October to early April.  If I had planned to study abroad, it would have cut into half of the season because most study abroad programs run one semester.

So what was the decision? Last year I was an orientation advisor (OA).  As an OA, students help incoming freshmen get adjusted to college life.  The people that are in charge of OAs are called Orientation Leadership.  I had desperately wanted to be on the Orientation Leadership team since my freshman year.  So why, then, did I turn down the job when it was offered to me for this year?  Well that was because of a lesson that my parents taught me when I was growing up- Family comes first and everything else comes second.  Now this isn’t about my real family (Mom, Dad, Phil, Joey, and PJ) but about my other family.  Like I said, I am a manager for our Men’s Basketball program.  The players have made me one of their own and the coaches have taken me under their wing.  Outside of my parents, they have been some of the most important role models in my life.  That, to me, is family.  As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned through life that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  The basketball team has made me feel like a part of the family and so  I denied a secure job for the potential of going on a two week tour of Italy and Switzerland with the team.  The dates for Orientation conflicted with the dates for the trip, so I couldn’t do both. To make the decision even harder, there was no guarantee that I’d actually go on the trip, seeing as we have 12 managers on the staff and three rising seniors.  By choosing the potential trip with the basketball team over the opportunity to be on the OA Leadership team, I inadvertently gave myself the opportunity to go abroad for a semester or year.  If I had taken the OA Leadership position, not only would I not have had a chance to go abroad with the basketball team, but I would not have been able to go abroad for a semester or year either, because members of the OA Leadership team commit to staying on campus for the remaining two years to help with orientation.  The thought of studying abroad would never have crossed my mind.

With all of that running through my head, I drove home.  It had been a long semester of 5.5 classes and I needed a break.  I had gotten caught up in lots of work that I had forgotten how enjoyable it was to be a college student. During winter break I decided that I needed to change something.  As Steve Jobs said in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am going to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”   One day over winter break I received an email from the Office of International Education.  They send out tons of emails to sophomores telling them that they should study abroad.  Every time that they sent one, I deleted the message before opening it.  This time, I took a look.  I needed to change something.  After that I sat down with my parents and went through every program, crossing off schools one by one.  When I got it down to my final two choices I asked a few people which one I should choose and received lots of good advice.  All of the advice pointed towards Oxford, a full-year study abroad program, and the rest is history.

Over the next 9 months I hope to learn, grow and explore a different culture.  I hope to enjoy my time abroad and work hard to study some biochemistry.  But most importantly, I hope that this blog will inspire you to get up, go and follow your dreams.  Why waste your time doing anything else?  In the words of Coach Mooney, “You’ve got a chance to be great today kid!”  Go be it and I will talk to you soon.

“Sometimes you imagine that everything could have been different for you, that if only you had gone right one day when you chose to go left, you would be living a life you could never have anticipated. But at other times you think there was no other way forward–that you were always bound to end up exactly where you have.”

― Kevin Brockmeier, The View from the Seventh Layer

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