Study Abroad Reflections: Gratitude, Perspective, and Privilege

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I had always dreamt of traveling.

Even as a middle schooler, I aspired to study in France one day, just like my mom did. Granted, she was only in France for about a month, but the dream was there.

When I decided to put the work into making these goals a reality, I faced some difficulties, but nothing I couldn’t move past or overcome. As I went through the process of selecting a program, saving money, and applying for a visa, I realized how privileged I was to be going to this trouble in the first place. Even though the applications and academic correspondences were tedious and stressful, I was doing something many young people worldwide do not have the time, money, or luxury of doing. In committing my spring semester to a study abroad program in France, I was also recognizing my own privilege and how incredibly lucky I am.

The ability to use the student loans I was granted is a gift not granted to all, but is something everyone should look into if they want to study abroad. Even after almost one month here in France, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be here, and any troubles I encounter can seem almost trivial as a result. To me, the ability to study abroad is similar to one’s ability to take an unpaid internship or position with a company: a luxury. And it feels incredibly unfair that I should experience new cultures and travel throughout Europe while others with the same aspirations are held back by very understandable constraints. It seems almost impossible to say it, but is it so unrealistic to think that all students deserve equal opportunity to access to these kinds of opportunities? Especially in the United States, where institutions of higher education already demand exorbitant tuition fees? Maybe someday the unpaid or not-for-credit internship will cease to exist and study abroad opportunities will become more accessible, or at least afford all students — regardless of financial status the aid and ability — to achieve beyond the limits of our self-imposed systematic expectations.

It’s been a little difficult traveling and studying in France whilst plagued by these thoughts, but even when recognizing and reflecting upon one’s own position in life, I try to remember that all struggles (including my own) are valid, and the troubles I might encounter are not necessarily invalidated by my relative privilege. I find that it helps me to maintain a certain perspective and awareness, and to recall how, as humans, we are endowed with the same capacity to feel pain, and it is okay to feel that you are struggling even while you are doing something *amazing* like studying abroad.

As dark as these thoughts might seem, as a world citizen and a young student traveling the world, I find it becomes increasingly relevant for me to understand myself in relationship to others, and to make myself aware of our global community. Our experiences do not exist in isolation, and we owe it to ourselves and to others to empathize and learn. Yes, I am in France, living one of my lifelong dreams, but I can continue to grow here as a student of the world.

This post was contributed by Abby Hines, a student from the University of Dayton who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Grenoble, France.

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