Someone once said that we will regret the things we don’t do more than the things we do.
My decision not to study abroad in college is one of those things.
I grew up with a fascination about the world. One of my prized possessions was my globe and I spent hours spinning it around, making list after list of the countries, seas and rivers. I had pen pals in Canada, Mexico and Japan. My dad traveled often for business to places like Siena, Singapore and South Africa so the idea of going abroad at some point didn’t seem all that crazy or unlikely. I studied Spanish in high school with the reasoning that I was most likely to get to Mexico first. When I got to college, I switched to Russian – much more difficult and much further away!
The opportunities were there and I spent plenty of time in college dreaming about studying abroad or finding an internship overseas. But it never really seemed feasible, mainly due to the money factor. I was fortunate to get a limited amount of financial support from my parents for college. But it was limited. And the federal loans were limited. And the minor scholarship from my dad’s company was limited. And thus, my perceived ability to go abroad was limited. I worked 20 hours a week to make up what my parents, loans and scholarships didn’t cover and there was very little left over. Going abroad for a semester or a summer would have meant 3-4 months of no job and no income. Putting that together with the added expense of being overseas and it just didn’t add up.
I also didn’t want it enough then. The 19 -year-old me also wasn’t ready to give up her friends and her social life for a semester. In the pre-Facebook days, my 19-year-old self was too worried about losing touch with her friends and feeling left out if she went abroad.
I am 99.9% sure that my life would be 100% different right now if I had studied abroad in college. When I finally did take the opportunity to go overseas after finishing law school at age 25, I was hooked. Once I started working, I made the most of my generous vacation time, traveling internationally at least once, sometimes twice, each year. But deep down, that hasn’t quite been enough. Deep down, I dream of the day I can take off and travel long term. And I can’t help but think if I had gone abroad back when I was 19, everything since then would have turned out much differently. Would I have gone to law school? Would I have moved to Chicago? Those are both decisions that, amazingly, I don’t remember ever affirmatively deciding. I just went with the flow and, to a large extent, went with what was expected of me and with what I always expected of myself.
I believe studying abroad would have challenged those expectations. It would have given me the perspective to re-evaluate a life’s plan that I somehow formed before I even graduated from high school.
Of course, at this point I can’t go back. And I can’t spend too much time regretting something that I didn’t do 15 years ago. But it’s true that, of all the things I have done or not done in my life, I regret not studying abroad the most.
What is your biggest regret, travel-related or otherwise? Is it something you did or something you didn’t do?