My Biggest Regret? Not Studying Abroad

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.

Antique Globe

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!

Russia

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?

Photos: tibchris, crschmidt, –Mike–

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17 thoughts on “My Biggest Regret? Not Studying Abroad”

  1. Katie…such a true and personal confession I can relate to. I did a summer study abroad in college that stoked the desire to travel more but have found many reasons NOT to travel as much as I want as an “adult”. And my biggest regret is not finding a way to move to London for a year or two before having kids (having fallen in love with that city duing my study abroad program). I love my Rosie and can’t imagine leaving family now that she is hear, but that is something I will always regret…

  2. Hey Aimee! Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you could relate. Give it a few years and you can at least travel with Rosie on short trips – and when she gets to college, make sure you encourage her to study abroad! 🙂

  3. Hi Katie,

    I wrote a post on why I am glad I didn’t do a study abroad (sorry, it’s all the way at the bottom of my personal ramblings)

    http://travelsat88mph.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/traveling-as-a-kid-v-adult-a-little-history-of-me/

    Of course, I have some travel regrets, but I like to look at them as learning experiences either something I can change in my future or something to share so no one ends up in the same situation I did, like what you did with this post!

    1. Thanks for the response! I read your post and it sounds like we had similar reasons at the time for not studying abroad. You’re lucky to have traveled as much as a kid as you did – my childhood vacations consisted primarily of skiing in Colorado at the same resort every year. Not that it was horrible, but it would’ve been nice to mix things up. 🙂

  4. I regret not going to Australia and New Zealand with one of my instructors and a group of students for a semester in college. I was close to finishing my degree and figured I’d get the $2500 to cover the charges when I graduated, but I didn’t go. I did receive money when I graduated, but I should’ve gone regardless! The experience of traveling is worth more than money!

  5. hi katie,
    this post struck a chord. i was in boston sometime back and spent time walking through the harvard and mit campuses. while i was excited at being there somewhere at the back of my mind there was this deep regret of not having expanded a bit more time and energy looking at schools outside india while i was posting my college applications.
    like you i went with the flow and did what was expected of me; while by and large things have turned out ok, there are still those moments of “if only” which make me wonder…

  6. Regrets slip out of focus when you begin doing the thing you regret not doing. Keep planning your big trip, Katie, and one day it will happen!

  7. I did do a study abroad, 12 years ago (!) to France, but my biggest regret there was not speaking enough French! I was always too embarrassed of my accent and too worried about making mistakes. It is something I really regret…now I try to speak whatever language I’m learning without worrying about that. I could have learned so much French, but instead I feel like I barely improved at all!

  8. Hi Katie!

    Great post! This is actually my one regret in life as well. But, now that I’m 29, I’m finally going to “study abroad”. I’m moving to Italy to get my master’s degree, and I am so happy I am doing it at this age. I’m smarter, have an entirely different career than what I majored in, and have had time to study Italian. I think regrets are just more motivation to take advantage of opportunities in the future. Good luck with your travels!

    1. Thaks Suzanne – that is awesome you are moving to Italy to work on your master’s! I’m quite jealous! 🙂

  9. I soooo share this regret. I went to Scotland about 10 years after college and played golf at St. Andrews. Met some exchange students that spent 6 months there. And got to play golf there at the locals’ rate, which is about free. Plus, the cool Scots to hang with. Arrgggggg.

  10. I was in the exact same boat as you in college. Barely scraping by as it was (I put myself through school, as I was a nontrad), with loans, scholarships, work study and part-time jobs. Study abroad seemed out of the question. I regret that I didn’t try harder to find a way to do it then. I agree 100% with you–I think my life would have turned out much differently if I had.

  11. Michael – Students in Scotland get to play at St. Andrews for free? That’s reason enough to study abroad there!

    Gray – Nice to hear I’m not the only one! I so wish I’d tried harder to make it work, but like I said above, I don’t think I realized at 19 that I wanted it that badly.

  12. You know, I just left my advisor’s office and I am hooked on this idea. I really don’t want to regret anything in this life. And I feel this is going to happen to me if I do not go and study in china. thank you for the post, and the warning.

  13. I found this post through your email – I don’t spend much time on regrets, but this is one of mine as well. I put myself through college with loans and 2 part-time jobs, and entered the debt spiral early in life, but I am very envious of the kids I see studying abroad now.
    I also once left a job where my boss had just been reassigned to the London office. I can’t help but wonder had I stuck around if I might have gotten an overseas assignment as well. That is my next dream, to take an expat assignment somewhere, someday 🙂

  14. Hi Katie.

    I actually did study abroad in college and I went to London for a semester. I am very glad that I did that, but I will admit it wasn’t perfect.

    I had cultural shock and reverse cultural shock after I returned back to the U.S. I can’t completely relate to how you feel because I know if I didn’t study abroad, I would regret it too.

    But, I will tell you that it’s common for students who study abroad to sometimes wish they chose a different country to go to. I thought about going to Brazil and the Czech Republic, but those particular study abroad programs wouldn’t really help me that much with my major although I would have preferred to go to those countries more than England.

    Anyway, one regret I really struggle with is where I chose to go to college. I went to college in DC and although I had a great time, I had an opportunity to go to college in Miami. For several reasons, I didn’t choose to go to Miami to study and now I regret it. I think I was just too apprehensive because I transferred from another college where I had a really bad experience and I thought that maybe I wouldn’t fit in with the college students in Miami.

    I live in Miami now and I regret not going to college here because of how nice and tropical it is and realizing maybe my fears of not fitting in with the students wasn’t rational. However, I am learning to get a grip on my emotions and I realize that we can’t do everything we want to in life. I hope you and I remember that regret is regretting the unknown. It’s possible that you studying abroad wouldn’t be a good experience and that me going to school in Miami would end up badly.

    I just want to let you know that everyone struggles with “what if” which is what regret is because we are imagining a perfect solution to our issue, but we must realize that no matter what we do or don’t do, it won’t be perfect.

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