Break your borders by studying abroad

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I recently returned from a trip that changed my life. I experienced a completely different side of the world I never before imagined. Prior to embarking on this particular trip, I enjoyed the familiarity of my American upbringing, accustomed to clean tap water and fast food. I took for granted the concept of freedom and the opportunity to pursue a lifestyle of my personal choosing. This trip made me realize that I lived in the comfort of a bubble, and that bubble was quickly broken. I never realized how different cultures can be until I experienced it for myself.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit China during a study abroad trip that was organized by UVU’s International Center and Department of Languages. As my first study abroad trip and first experience in China, I did not know what to expect during my stay in this foreign land. These unknowns created feelings of both uneasiness and excitement for me. No longer in safe and good ol’ Utah, but in China, a country with 1.3 billion people and a vastly different place than America.

I am truly grateful for being born an American, however, deep down inside me I feel that there is something missing. Not a feeling of sadness or depression, but an unsatisfied wonder to what lies outside these borders. To meet new and interesting people who have lived completely different lives than me, to taste the common food they eat every day, to visit the most obscure places where only the locals know, and to simply embrace each moment abroad as a wonderful and amazing experience. St. Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page.”

On May 30, I boarded a plane that took me on my first trip to China. Arriving at the Shanghai airport, I was faced with a myriad of foreign sights and sounds, experiencing everything from fear to amazement. After leaving the airport, I eventually found my way, a three hour journey that should have only taken one, to the hotel where I had a room booked, and was faced with a unique situation. I could either retreat to the safety of my hotel room until the rest of the group arrived, or I could explore the new and unfamiliar environment around me.

Of course there were risks involved, just like anywhere else in the world, but this was a rare opportunity to experience a side of the world I’d never seen before. If I stayed in the protective bubble of my hotel room, I would have remained exactly the same person as before. There I was, alone in a foreign land, faced with an opportunity that could be either taken advantage of, or sadly wasted due to fear. At that moment, I decided not to be scared of the unknown and perceive this trip as an once-in-a-lifetime adventure. With that perception in mind, it made all the difference on that trip in China.

The two months I spent in China inspired me to think more deeply of the many differences there are in this world. I learned that Chinese people are more subtle yet meaningful with their actions and that paper is stapled like a book, rather than in the top left corner. I saw both the good and bad in people as I met many sincere and honest local people, but I was also scammed due to freely giving my trust to people I’d just met. My comprehension of the Chinese language greatly increased, and I now plan to study in China for a year after I graduate next April. I now aspire to pursue a career that specializes in Chinese-American relations. All those lessons and changes happened because I was willing to break my comfort zones, my borders of security, in order to see what life would be like for me after this experience.

Many people lie on their deathbeds full of regret, of “what ifs” or “why nots” to what could have been. These people chose a life of security and stability rather than passion and ambition. They lived a life based on the opinion and needs of others and rarely stopped to think twice of what made them truly happy.

Before this happens to you, I challenge you to write down a list of realistic things you would like to someday accomplish and experience. From there, create a serious plan on how to initiate and accomplish those goals. A dream is only a dream, while a goal is a dream with a plan for success. Don’t expect anyone to help you. It is your sole right and responsibility to have a life you desire. If these goals require you to leave your comfort zone, try not to hesitate or give up. Break your borders, and it may change your life in ways that you’ve never imagined.