When my semester in Milan was approaching, all of my family and friends told me, “Cherish every moment. It’s going to go by so fast.” That had to be the biggest understatement of the past few months. With my final projects due in a matter of days and packing for home on my to-do list, it is truly unbelievable that this experience is already coming to a close. But my Italian is finally improving! But I’ve got so much momentum built with my design work! But my roommates and I just established a dish-washing rule that actually works! One semester is just enough time to get someone comfortable and ready for more. However, as much as I may want to stay, I realize that I do have to deal with that thing called “reality.” I have a family who misses me, a job that needs me, and a Senior year of college that needs finishing. This sudden break from my new, thrilling life back to my usual, familiar life illustrates an interesting poetic comparison: the semester abroad as a dream.
While studying abroad, one quickly finds one’s self in a completely new world: new people, new places, new food, new customs, new languages, new perspectives, a new way of life. Just like a dream, the experience is altogether alien and foreign from almost everything one knows from everyday life. One discovers that common, daily activities such as communicating with others and navigating around the city are intimidating challenges. Furthermore, the student abroad is capable of feats that seem impossible in normal life; when could an average person wake up in their own bed and then within a matter of a few days, travel to one, two, maybe even three totally different countries before being right back where one started? The discovery of this powerful capability shifts the focus of the dream from the previous disconnect and isolation from the things familiar in one’s life to an incredible energy of adventure and limitlessness that simply doesn’t exist in the world of everyday. Like in a dream, the student abroad takes advantage of his or her existence in an environment that isn’t necessarily made up of the rules and confines that he or she is used to. One is empowered and independent with a constant sense of carpe diem, finding one’s way through this journey as one learns about one’s self and the world one inhabits. And just like the dream, this remarkable and magical experience is over within a moment’s notice.
I recently read an article about how studying abroad creates entitled, know-it-all, egotistical people. Honestly, I can understand this perspective. Given this dream-like period of time, one returns to their previous life and wants to share the experience with those around them and tell stories about what it was like; a mere attempt to make the average more fantastic. This may come off as trying to flaunt one’s knowledge, trying to improve a situation that most feel needs no improving, or trying to talk about areas that one only experienced or comprehended on a very superficial level. Therefore, the solution to the aforementioned article’s complaint is not to be satisfied with the past semester as something as intangible, fleeting, and distant as a dream, but rather to take the experience, draw conclusions from it, and apply what one has learned to real life. Do not just share memories of the kind and selfless people you have met; personify their compassion and spread their love. Do not just praise the food or fashion that you have enjoyed; take that renewed sense of cultural appreciation and use it to connect with your home and those with whom you share it. Do not convey this experience to others solely through your words, but through your actions. To all of those who have studied abroad, remember that this semester is not merely a dream to recollect, but a lesson to embody.
Diego is a student at San Francisco Art Institute studying at Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti during the Spring 2014 term.