When I think over my relatively short life, I can’t help but look back with fondness on the time I spent studying abroad. I studied abroad in Vienna, Austria during the winter semester of my sophomore year of college. Exactly one year later, I spent four months studying abroad in Jerusalem.
Besides very obvious reasons why those months are memorable to me, I am most surprised by just how genuinely happy I felt all the time.
And it wasn’t always a walk in the park. I came within nine minutes of catching frostbite while searching for the Wotrubakirche in the suburbs of Vienna. And I don’t even want to remember all the times I was sexually harassed in the streets of Jerusalem.
Yet there was something about those months—a certain approach I had to living—that made my experiences abroad some of the happiest times of my life.
Maybe it was the way I approached my studies. There was a significant level of relevance in everything I was learning. Instead of becoming consumed with assignments and readings, I actually wanted to retain and internalize everything I learned. In Vienna, I sought out every opportunity to see a Klimt painting or hear a Mozart symphony. In Israel, every archeological site I visited helped me to better understand the stories and setting of the Old and New Testament. I learned that I am surprisingly motivated to apply myself to my studies when I can immediately apply what I am learning to my life.
Maybe it was the novelty of being in a new place; every day was an adventure. I spent hours poring over guidebooks, making checklists of everything I wanted to see and do in the few months I had. I couldn’t afford to waste any time watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. Once I finished up my classes for the day, I headed out to explore! Sometimes it was scary and sometimes I was exhausted, but I was always satisfied with how I chose to spent my time.
Maybe it was the perpetual state of being surrounded by my best friends. In Vienna, Grace and Alexa and Aly were always by my side. Together we figured out where to get the best gelato in the city, how the U-Bahn system works, and how to survive staying in creepy hostels. Even on the bad days, we would go to the Billa, buy cookies, curl up on Grace’s bed, and watch the latest episode of the Bachelor. And in Jerusalem, all 80 of us quickly became family. We had to travel in groups of three so we were never alone. Also, spending hours and hours on buses together, studying long hours in a freezing library, and having to walk up seven flights of stairs EVERY DAY really brings people together. Everywhere I went for four months, I was surrounded by my best friends.
. . .
I’m not sure exactly what it was that made studying abroad in both Vienna and Jerusalem so wonderful. But if I can pinpoint it, and start living my everyday life with that same study-abroad approach, then I can be just as happy now as I was then.