A Final Thought on Studying Abroad

“You never really leave the place you love. You take part of it with you and leave part of it there.” – that is the price we pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.

It was an odd feeling to be back in America. As soon as I stepped into Chicago’s airport, I just felt…different. I immediately viewed America more differently than I ever have; I got to view it from an outsider’s perspective, making me realize more than I ever could have thought possible. I felt strangely uncomfortable around my own people. I could already feel the stages of culture shock beginning to develop.

I tried preparing myself in advance, by telling myself to expect things to be different. But, I discovered that that was something I truly couldn’t prepare myself for- imagining it and experiencing it are two completely different things.

I’m often asked, “What was your favorite part?” When the very first person approached me with this question, I realized that it was nearly impossible to answer- the word “part” is a very broad term.

If you’re asking me with a goal to just scratch the surface, I’ll answer you by saying that I’ll miss the people the most- the smiling faces, their endless joy. These people have so little, yet they are so happy. So happy that I felt it carry with me there and then even back to the states weeks later- it was contagious. Being in Thailand has allowed me to be uncontrollably happy, 24 hours a day…something that before I thought was hard to have for seven weeks straight. Even on the seemingly bad days, there was always something about that place that still left me a piece of satisfaction.

But if you’re looking for a deeper answer to that question, one that unfolds all the layers underneath, it is an answer that is difficult to put into words.

But in an attempt to reflect on my time abroad, I will tell you this:

I love that my eyes have been opened to much more of what this world has to offer. I’ve seen the good and the bad, the smiles and the tears, the rich and the poor. I’ve seen the sick, and I’ve seen the healthy. I’ve seen strangers turn into best friends…and I’ve experienced two completely different cultures blend perfectly together.

I love that I could leave all of my problems and worries at home; I didn’t take any of it with me. I didn’t worry about what people thought of me, but rather I let this be a trip to focus on myself- and I found true happiness by doing so. This trip has changed me in a way that I haven’t yet found an answer for. I feel happier, humbled, and more appreciative.

I learned so much more than what my classes in Thailand could teach. I learned what I am capable of; I learned my strengths and my weaknesses. I learned that stepping out of your comfort zone causes great rewards. I learned that you always need to do what makes you happy, without forgetting the importance that giving is greater than receiving. I learned that the world is full of so many amazing people and so many amazing places. I learned that the LORD our God is truly incredible and that he works tiny easily overlooked miracles each and every day. I learned about how important diversity is. I learned what causes my inner happiness. And most of all, I realized that adventure really is the best way to learn.

My experience was nothing that could be gained without every person and every step that I made along the way. Although physically it cost me resources to go, mentally I feel a million dollars richer. A part of me will always be left in Thailand, and some of you may think that I became too attached. But, “I don’t believe in non-attachment; there’s no passion inside of that. I believe in burning and longing. And I believe we leave tiny pieces of ourselves in every place we’ve loved.”

Chelsea Dues studying abroad in Thailand
Photo Credit: Chelsea Dues

So if there is one thing that I can encourage you to do, let it be this:

Just go. Go travel. Meet new people. Have unfamiliar conversations in languages that you cannot entirely comprehend. Make connections with strangers. Shuffle your surroundings. Gain a new sense of globalization. Have your mind boggled. Once you do, I promise you that you’ll come back viewing this world a little differently- with a new appreciation and a few extra colors. You’ll learn so much about yourself, and if you’re like me, you’ll figure out who you truly are. As Henry Rollins says, there are so many lessons to be learned that cannot be read out of a book, but rather they are waiting for you at the other end of a flight. So what are you waiting for?

Chelsey Dues studied abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand in Summer 2016. She was also a student ambassador at Ohio Northern University. You can read more about her time in Chiang Mai on her blog.