Reflections on Study Abroad Part 1: The People

I’m taking it as a sign that Sam Smith is playing in this coffeeshop right now because Sam makes my favorite “in my feelings” tunes and get ready folks because we’re about to get seriously in my feelings.

Study abroad is at end, my last final is tomorrow and my flight home the day after that. This was completely utterly the life-changing, enormously remarkable experience that it was supposed to be, in both the cheesy expected ways that you see sorority girls posting about on Instagram and the most surprising ways, that also turned to be the most important. The past three months are far too much to break down in one blog post. So here’s part 1 of an indefinite number.

I was scared shitless when I left in September. This would be the longest period of time I had spent outside America, in a country I had never been in, where I didn’t speak the language, with people I had never met. I didn’t know how many people would be in my program, or what schools they came from, or what they would be like. I felt like a college freshman again, with the added confusion that a lot of things would be in Dutch.

There were 29 other people. Coming from Catholic University, DePaul University, and St. Joseph’s University. D.C., Chicago, Philly. And then there was me, the sole representative from Northeastern.

I didn’t have high hopes for these people. I expected them all to stick with the people from their school. I expected to travel alone, hang out with myself a lot, experience Leuven and Belgium solo. And I was ok with that.

But instead I was thrown into the company of quite honestly, some of the coolest folks I have ever met. I don’t think I would have loved study abroad without them, but they’re also making it really hard to leave. And I’m going to back to family and friends, an entire city, that don’t know these people.

So let me tell you about my friends.

They are all really different. Like really really different. To name a few: the sweetest person I have ever met, the guy with the darkest sense of humor I have ever witnessed but is not so secretly the softest person here, the psycho-in-a-good-way girl who we can tell, is earmarked for greatness, the sad drunk who actually is one of the main reasons we’ve all gotten so close over these past few months (#bigtalk), the guy who speaks 8 languages, the secretly brilliant sorority girl who isn’t actually a sorority girl, the guy who I’m surprised has managed to make it alive through this, and I could go on, but there are other important things I need to say about these folks.

We left the United States at the best and worst time. Selfishly, I was glad to leave, to put the problems of my country a little farther away, to pretend for at time that they were only temporary. But these aren’t a phase, it’s just the revealing on an international stage the reality of a country that was literally built on white supremacy. As young political science students, it’s easy for us to feel discouraged, disillusioned. I sometimes lie awake at night, wondering “will it ever get any better?”

And I don’t know if it will (though I hope with all my heart that it does). But what I do know is that I spent the past 3 months with smart, ambitious people, who (even the Republicans) care about humanity. We’ve seen a lot of the worst modern America has to offer and we haven’t given up, and I don’t any of us ever will. I don’t agree with the political views of everyone here, but we all care so much. I love people who care. People who give a damn. For once I wasn’t the annoying friend who made it political, we were all that annoying friend (after all, what’s Thanksgiving without a debate on capitalism and settler-colonialism). These are people who will get blackout drunk and fight about welfare policy. These are people who are marked to change the world. Obviously not all of us will change it on a grand scale, but as lame and cheesy as it all sounds, we’ll make a difference in our own ways, in our communities, wherever we end up. It’s hard to have faith in things these days, but I have faith in these people.

Alright just a little more sappiness left, don’t worry.

This part is for you guys. The people who somehow made the Institute and Leuven feel like home, who became a sort of family for each other over the past few months. Whether it was cooking dinner together in our Airbnb in Krakow, or nearly dying from the stomach flu a few days later, to perfecting our perfecting our imitations of literally one of the most ridiculous men alive aka our law professor, aka the infamous and illustrious Roel, to discussing the bureaucracy of the European Parliament over lunch at the European Parliament, these have been some of the most unforgettable moments of my life. Except for the parts we blacked out because I definitely don’t remember those.

What I hope for all of us is that we hold on to this feeling, right now. That there are others like us who will laugh at jokes about Keynesian economics or the Maastricht Treaty. That making it political is okay, that sometimes it’s necessary. I can’t wait to see what we all do, who we all become.

Thank you for making this (almost) second semester college senior a little less afraid and a little more excited for the future. I’m so glad I met you losers.


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