From India to Serbia: Insights on study abroad

Maggie O’Donell

Returning from study abroad is eerily familiar to the summer before you leave for your freshman year of college: you’re constantly asked the

Maggie O’Donnell ‘14 and Ryan Derham ‘14 at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. (Photo: Maggie O’Donnell)

Maggie O’Donnell ‘14 and Ryan Derham ‘14 at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. (Photo: Maggie O’Donnell)

same questions and quickly come up with a repertoire of stories and phrases that you know people want to hear. “Goucher? Yeah, it’s a small liberal arts school outside of Baltimore. You’ve probably never heard of it…” is quickly replaced with “I went to India and Serbia. No, I can’t compare the two—they were completely separate semesters and experiences. Yes, it was incredible. No, I’m really not that brave; anyone can do it.”
Here’s the thing though: Goucher is so much more than the few sentences that we use when offering context and understanding of our school to those that ask. Much like our explanations of Goucher, I have found that I am rarely able to convey just how meaningful my two separate and consecutive semesters abroad were to nearly everyone that asks.
That being said, here are a few things that I want to share:
People are incredible. I met some of the best people I have ever come into contact with while I was abroad. This isn’t to say that you can’t meet amazing individuals in the United States (because you can, and you should), but is instead to say that study abroad gives you an excuse to reach outside of your comfort zone and “transcend boundaries” that might be harder to cross otherwise. My host dad not only wished to talk about Serbian political and social issues, but also spoke of personal memories from the 1999 NATO bombings in Belgrade and of his own experiences living within the country for the entirety of his life. peers, in both programs, challenged my pre-conceived judgments and provided support when learning about more difficult subjects. I met a man that lived in Sarajevo during the siege. I talked to an Indian college student about his Buddhist faith, and another about his Hindu faith.  I heard the Dalai Lama speak.  I met Tibetan refugees who were unable to return to their homeland.
There is so much to see of the world. I spent several nights in India crammed into a sleeper bus with every reason to be grumpy, but found myself grinning at the very fact that I was experiencing something so different from anything I had ever done. I saw more stars than I probably ever will see again from a rooftop in Bhaktapur, Nepal. I flew over the Himalayas (and Mount Everest) at sunrise with three of my closest friends. And most impressively, I saw Beyonce open her world tour in Belgrade.
I am not exceptionally brave. (I’m really not. If I went to Hogwarts, I would definitely be in Hufflepuff, and certainly wouldn’t be in Gryffindor on the grounds of lack of courage.)  If you’re thinking about going somewhere that seems a little scarier or is a little bit off of the beaten track, you have to do it. If you’re considering a full semester or even a year, you have to do it. Your friends will still be here when you get back, you’ll meet wonderful people wherever you go, you’ll see some of the most extraordinary sights, and you’ll return to Goucher with so much more knowledge and curiosity about the world and the people who live in it.
Within his own novel, Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann poetically wrote, “There’s a part of me that thinks perhaps we go on existing in a place even after we’ve left it.” Maybe there’s truth to that and maybe there isn’t, but what I do know is that studying abroad was the most rewarding experience of my life to date and it sure feels as though I left a part of myself abroad.



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