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With these words, I’m getting you a world map.

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In early August of 2013, I moved from my hometown of 18 years, Stamford, Connecticut, to study at Erasmus University in the Netherlands. When I first got started at Erasmus, my main priority was to find a room—any room—and live in it, as to fulfill man’s primitive need for shelter. As this is not a very selective criterion, tracking down and finding said room was not a difficult task. I carefully selected a beautiful starch white room at least 30 minutes from campus (and everything else), with four strangers, a broken bed and a leaky sink. Ideal.

In an attempt to darken my bright white room, I purchased a large world map for the bare walls that surrounded me. It was a pretty artsy map, composed entirely of thick, black, country names (no country boundaries—just the names) that took up a significant amount of wall space directly over my bed.  I could not wait to finally cover the white walls, but most of all, I absolutely could NOT wait to put a picture of it on Instagram and see how many people agreed that it was just about the artsiest map they ever did see.

I bought the map relatively early into my stay in (what we will now refer to as) prison, and it took a bit of time before I invited any of my roommates into my room for a peek. One of the first roommates ever to be lucky enough to come inside my little hobbit hole was a girl named Rosanne, a born and bred Dutchie. One day, as we were sitting at my table, chatting about Dutch provinces and boys, she examined my map, turned to me and said: “You’re the perfect person to own this, I could never own a world map.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: ‘poor girl, she can’t even afford a map of the beautiful world that we live on!’ Ladies and gentlemen, you have got it all wrong. Once prodded with a bunch of confused questions from me, Rosanne finally clarified that she could never own such a map because she would never want to leave the comforts of home and explore the world.

At first when Rosanne said this, I was completely shocked. I began to think about how ridiculously easy it had been for me to leave the US; only to realize that leaving the US was the hardest decision I had ever had to make.

Let’s backtrack to late evening of April 30th of my senior year in high school. April 30th, 2013 was perhaps the most important day of my life. April 30th is the day when I decided that I no longer wanted to go to school in Boston, but actually wanted to go to school at Erasmus University—a school I had only applied to on a whim, in a city I had never even heard of before.

When I started telling people my decision, I was met with a lot of questions. The most pertinent one being: Why? Was it because I had wanderlust itches that just needed to be scratched? Was it because I wanted to wear clogs, watch windmills and smoke weed in my free time?

Truthfully, when people began asking me why, my only answer was because I felt like I had no choice. Emerson College, the university I so desperately wanted to go to in Boston, had made a mistake with my financial aid, leaving me to either surrender to a life of debt or go to Erasmus.

After making my decision, I felt queasy for quite some time. I continuously questioned my ability to go without my dad, my mom, my sister, my friends, my pets—everything. Despite all of my thoughts, I approached the situation with a surprising amount of optimism, only once sobbing tirelessly at the airport when having to say goodbye to my dad.

I have now been studying at Erasmus University for about a year and a half. I have now been having the best time of my life for about a year and a half. The international program I am enrolled in has introduced me to people from every nook and cranny of the globe. I have learned about the food of Sint Maarten, the daredevil taxi drivers in Dubai, the outstanding quality of goods in Germany, I have even learned how to write my name in perfect Mandarin Chinese. Being exposed to so many people from so many places has opened my mind to a sort of ignorance that is inherent to us because we were never given the chance to properly learn about the rest of the world. The word ‘wanderlust’ cannot even begin to describe the way I now feel about wanting to discover every single inch of the world, and it is all thanks to the people I have met and learned about because I came to study abroad.

In the United States, only 10% of students travel abroad for studies. Though this percentage increases minimally by each year, the fact that it isn’t already monumentally high is absurd. What are you waiting for? If finances are your issue, never fear: the United States is one of the top three most expensive countries to study in. If you Google “most expensive universities” you will not find any international schools in any of the links on the first page (trust me, I checked). If language is what is holding you back, don’t worry! 79 countries have English as a registered language. Even countries where English is not a registered language, like the Netherlands, for example, have a large population of English speakers as it is a requirement to learn in primary and secondary schools.

It is true that the decision to study abroad is a really difficult decision to make. There are so many other options for school that seem more appealing and in reach. There are a ton of reasons why you shouldn’t, but they should not overrule the reasons why you should. Studying abroad can be terrifying, but only because our focus is on the negative outcomes, as they seem far more extreme than all of the little positives that all add up. If you’ve already closed the book on traveling abroad for your studies, I encourage you to reopen it. At the very least, go and get yourself a world map. It’s an easy beginning to a wonderful and enriching life.

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