If you had told me my first year that I would choose to study abroad, I would have thought you were crazy. Why on earth would I want to leave a place like Princeton? After all, hadn’t I worked hard my whole life to attend this school? Why would I want to willingly leave such an amazing school to go study elsewhere? However, after spending the past three months in Panama, I can honestly say that studying abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made at Princeton.
Living in another country gave me the chance to learn about a new culture, meet new people and find new places to explore. I improved my Spanish and learned what it means to do field research. Most importantly though, I learned how to live in the moment and appreciate the small things.
I have been living at Princeton for more than two and a half years now. I know the ins and outs of the school. I know the dirt paths that I can take to cut 30 seconds off my commute from up campus to down campus. I know where to find late night snacks and cookies. I know in which study spots I am most productive. I know how to run from volleyball practice to bio review sessions strategically so that I am not missing more than 5 minutes of either. I’ve become so used to campus that I am constantly moving from one thing to another, never stopping to smell the flowers. In Panama, apart from literally stopping to smell (and count and watch for hours) every single flower in my transect (see my previous blog post here), I took the time to stop and admire everything since it was all new to me.
I would look at every billboard on the side of the road, trying to translate it from Spanish to English. I would "oooh" and "ahhh" at the beautiful trees and flowers we saw on our walks through the forest. I would make smoothies from the mangos that fell from the tree outside our schoolhouse. I would look for dolphins every time the ocean was in view. I wanted to see everything and not miss out on any experience or opportunity that presented itself to me.
Now that I’m back on campus, I have a new set of eyes. Everything that was once common is new once again. The beautiful architecture of Blair Arch causes me to pause as I walk by. The buildings that were remodeled while I was gone entice me to enter and visit. Even the posters on the lamp posts that I always used to walk by cause me to stop and see what is happening on campus. I’m spending time to look all around me and appreciate the beauty that Princeton is.
Studying abroad opened my eyes to the world around me. This is a lesson that I don’t believe I could have learned in the classroom. It required exposing myself to a new situation filled with new people and new experiences. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had. If there were one piece of advice I can offer to younger students considering studying abroad, it would be to GO! Go out into the world and experience life. Find some place that excites you. It is 100% worth it. Study abroad was one of the most formative experiences, and I know I will carry the lessons I learned in Panama with me for the rest of my life.