Today, my guest blogger is Jake Nonweiler ’14 who took time during a busy period to write about his decision to stay on campus instead of studying abroad. As always, we welcome your comments and thoughts. —Shirley M. Collado
Last semester, I decided to refuse the delicacies of the most gastronomically sophisticated country in the world and sprint every day to my 8 a.m. in BiHall with a protein bar in hand. When I abandoned my study abroad plans, I immediately realized how invaluable studying abroad would have been. It would have opened my mind to a new culture and way of life. As we hear from every TED talk, budding entrepreneur, and leadership conference, “It’s all about the journey.” What I think we fail to hear at these inspirational events, however, is that this journey is often unavoidably miserable and lackluster, which can be hard to change.
Facebook provided me with the consistently unfortunate reminder that I was living less than 100 feet away from where I lived freshman year and that at no point would I be exploring another continent’s intricacies. I felt frustrated, trapped, and embarrassed that I missed a chance to go outside of my comfort zone and explore a new culture. But regardless of my reasoning for making this seemingly erroneous choice, I realized at some point that being so negative about staying on campus was doing nothing but reinforcing my negativity.
I had seemingly forgotten that studying at one of the most well-respected liberal arts colleges in the country provided me with an endless number of opportunities apart from studying abroad. My attitude needed to change, and it needed to change sooner rather than later. So I sat down, pulled out a sheet of paper, and made an optimistic and ridiculously unachievable “burst plan” that was to be completed in no more than four days: find an internship, start a business, learn how to code websites, make 10 new friends, and reconnect with 10 people I hadn’t talked to in more than year.
I couldn’t reasonably complete every item on my list, but my simple burst plan reenergized me. I signed up for MiddCORE and had one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. I found an internship with a company that I aspire to work for after college. I started the continuous process of learning Web development and have become passionate about human-centered design. And along the way, I met people who supported me and shared my goals. Each of these events helped me better understand myself, and I discovered new passions that I now can’t imagine living without.
My point in writing about my experience is not to justify deciding not to study abroad or to discredit those who do, but to highlight the sheer power of perspective. Recognizing that at some points in life’s journey I will be exhausted, frustrated, and embarrassed helps me redefine what and whom I appreciate and value. There’s an unfortunate assumption that not studying abroad means you’re not adventurous or didn’t organize your classes correctly to do so. And while in some instances this is fair, it’s not always the case. I hope that other students who feel ambivalent about studying abroad will recognize that Middlebury’s opportunities are limited only by the desire to pursue them, whether on campus or on the other side of the world.