I was late to the study abroad game. Most of my friends studied abroad as early as their second semester, and others during their sophomore or junior year. I even know people that have done exchange programs in high school On the contrary, I spent my last semester of college in South India.
Study abroad was at the bottom of my college bucket list. Although it wasn’t a top priority initially, I was determined to cross off every single item on my list. Particularly, I wanted to study in Prague. If you’ve read any other my travel-oriented pieces, or know me personally, you know how much Czech culture means to me. If not, I’ll give you an idea. In my First Year Seminar, an introductory course incoming students take during their first semester at my alma matter, I made this postcard (pictured below) for a class activity. After reading Franz Kafka for the first time when I was sixteen, I deemed Prague the city of my dreams.
And I finally made it! I studied there the summer before my senior year. Though I finally made it to the city of my dreams, I felt empty when I returned a month later. I thought I’d return with a satisfied wanderlust. I was eager to return to the comfort of my own bed, Netflix account, and other American amenities I’m accustomed to. I turned out to be terribly wrong, because my wanderlust only grew. I decided to follow this urge to go abroad again.
I found myself soon researching semester-long programs only days after my homecoming. By the summer, it was too late to apply to fall programs, so I was exclusively looking at the spring semester. The potential semester I’d spend abroad, if everything went right (and it did), would be my last as an undergraduate student. (Fortunately, I had more than enough credits within my degree program to graduate without any issues, so academically I could afford a semester full of electives.) This time around, I was looking for programs strictly outside of Europe. I wanted to escape the comfort of Western culture. Although Morocco and Costa Rica were the top contenders, I became invested in my school’s program based in India.
The thought of spending my last semester abroad felt exciting and fresh. I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off my graduation the following May. However, those around me didn’t react the same way. While close friends were thrilled about the opportunity, they also thought I’d be missing out on our last semester together. Although I’d be missing a ton of events geared towards graduating seniors, I’d ultimately miss out on the last memories I’d make with them on campus. We wouldn’t know if these friendships would last after graduation. It was a scary thought.
Despite the criticism, I committed to the trip. I decided this was something I needed to do for myself. The scholarships I received, too, made the decision even easier. Although I was leaving my friends and the rest of my graduating class, I would see them again four months later. I’d be back in time to walk at graduation. And what a thrilling, adventurous four months it was.
Returning home was the most difficult part. My commencement ceremony was merely weeks ahead. I greeted friends I hadn’t seen in months. They recited inside jokes I didn’t understand and sang popular songs I hadn’t yet heard. I visited my college campus, where most of them still lived in their dorms, and felt extremely dissociated, as if I already graduated. Although I was returning to close friends and a familiar place, I was preparing myself to say goodbye.
Regardless, I don’t regret spending my last semester abroad. Sure, my graduating peers made their last memories together on campus, but I did, too. I made memories in a different way, across the world in a foreign country. For instance, I traded a blacklight party for a cow festival, a meal at my favorite local restaurant for delicious Indo-Chinese cuisine only found in Asia, and soothing Sunday rain for dry Bangalorean heat. You learn to appreciate the cultural diversity you’re exposed to, instead of everything you’re familiar with, especially during a monumental time of your life like your last semester of college. At times, I caught myself glancing around the campus in South India, my temporary “home away from home,” and thinking: this is it. Senior year isn’t too late to study abroad.