Oxford: the first time I studied abroad.
Sitting for ten hours on a plane, next to a complete stranger, while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The idea of living in Oxford for one month was completely surreal. I remember sitting in my English class while my teacher was showing us a pamphlet about studying in Oxford, England for the summer—with the Oxbridge Academic Programs.
Before that summer the longest I had ever been away from home was a week for camp, and I had certainly never traveled internationally by myself. Nevertheless, I ended up in a foreign city.
It is hard to imagine how I was feeling on the first day that I arrived in Oxford— when everything was an alluring mystery and the utter beauty of seeing such an ancient city for the first time was astonishing. After the program began, the terrifying sense that nothing was normal faded away as friendships were made and routines were slipped into. I studied Art History every day for three and a half hours except for Sunday, and studied English Literature three times a week as well. I no longer had anyone at home telling me what I should do, and one of the most renowned cities in the world essentially became my home. I felt liberated and independent; the people around me didn’t know who I was and I could be whoever I wanted to be. However, what I found was that I did not want to be anyone else except exactly myself.
I became good friends with people from around the world who ended up having similar moral values and recognized the absolute fortune we had in living in Oxford. I complied a list of all of the places, restaurants, and activities we wanted to do. This involved visiting Christ Church, punting along the river (which is similar to gondoliering), and visiting the many colleges of Oxford. I did not want to waste my time at Oxford, and I knew I would feel happy if I made the most of my month there. At the end of the summer, I had successfully studied, socialized, and participated in a unique culture while an inner satisfaction grew inside me.
I am deeply grateful for the adventure I had while staying in this magnificent city. It was not because I looked at churches or experienced a different culture that suddenly I felt like an adult. It was more that the entire experience reaffirmed every belief in my body down to the very bone, and gave me a sense of self-confidence I never knew was possible. I am proud about my decision to study abroad because I am proud of the person I became in the process. It forced me to stop thinking that one day I will travel or that sometime in the future I will visit that place. I decided that then was going to be now and if I wanted to accomplish anything in life, I would have to take the initiative.
Often times a prominent cliché emerges: students who study abroad suddenly “find themselves.” This cliché is ridiculed by individuals who argue that people can’t “find themselves” or drastically become different by traveling to a different country for a short time. In some respects I can agree with that notion, but studying abroad allowed me find the courage and confidence inside of myself to live both boundlessly and independently.