How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

*Originally Published in the Northern Iowan*

     During the Spring 2013 semester, I got the chance to do something I had long dreamed of. I was privileged enough to study and live abroad in another country. For over four months, I lived in Dublin, Ireland while studying Film and Journalism at Dublin Business School. So far, these were the best four months of my life. 

     This jaunt would be my first time ever out of the United States, and before this I had only been out of the Midwest twice in my entire life. Leading up to my departure date I was so excited but so incredibly nervous. 

     What if I didn’t make any friends? What if I didn’t like my roommates? What if something bad happened at home while I was gone and I was unable to rush back to the States? For a 20 year-old boy from a rural town of roughly1400 inhabitants, I felt these were natural feelings. 

     My parents dropped me off at the airport in Omaha, Neb. as I began my journey. Many people have studied abroad for a semester to a year with friends or someone familiar to them. I, however, was completely alone. 

     As I went through security and made my way to the gate for my connecting flight to Chicago, I started to sweat profusely and a rush of anxiety came over me. Here I was by myself, about to board a flight that would take me the furthest away from home I had ever been. No one to rely on, no one to help me get to my next plane, no one to talk to and make fun of the rude flight attendant with, nothing. I felt like a fish out of water. 

     Looking back on my worries prior to my departure it makes me laugh. Why was I so worried? The experience that I had during my time in Europe couldn’t have been any better. 

     DBS was welcoming and made me feel very comfortable. I was able to meet incredible professors and staff members that made a huge impact on my academic success. Within my exchange program at DBS there were 24 fellow Americans from all different parts of the United States, some of which I became and still am very close with.  

     I was also able to live in a separate complex than the rest of my American friends and this gave me the chance to meet other exchange students from around mainland Europe and the rest of the world. 

     The five other roommates I shared a townhouse with were incredibly unique in their own ways and they taught me so much about European culture, the world in general and even helped me better myself as a person by pointing out all my American flaws! (Thanks again you guys)

     My favorite part of this whole experience was seeing places both in Ireland and mainland Europe that I had only ever dreamed of being able to see: getting to travel around Ireland and visit the country that my father’s family had lived in until the late 1800’s; as a Catholic, being able to travel to Rome and visit the Vatican; traveling to London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Munich, Paris and so on, I never thought I would see half of these places in my life, let alone at the age of 20. 

     The last place I visited during my time in Europe was Paris and it was when I first arrived at the Eiffel Tower that the full realization of everything I experienced finally occurred to me. 

     As I stood at the foot of the Eiffel Tower tears welled up in my eyes. I was at the Eiffel Tower. I am a kid from small-town Iowa who could not believe where I was standing.  

     Out of all the experiences and benefits I received during my time in Europe, it was the personal growth that I still cherish the most. I arrived in Dublin a confused young boy, and left as a confident, intellectual man. It really did take being out of my home country, being with people from completely different backgrounds, and seeing different cultures in action to truly realize my place in the world and the impact that I hope to make on others.

     My advice to anyone thinking about studying abroad is to do it, but if you are going to do it, do it 100 percent. 

     Go on this journey alone and allow yourself to be out of your comfort zone. Be brave enough to be confident in yourself that you will be okay without any familiar faces to help guide you. Sure, you might have a minor panic attack in the Omaha airport bathroom, but the personal growth you, as an individual, will experience is more valuable than any souvenir that you could bring home with you. 

     Shot glasses break and pictures fade, but this experience will have an everlasting impact on your life that no amount of Euros, Pounds or any other currency could buy you. 

Riley Cosgrove