Friday 20 May, 2016

Life Lessons Abroad: Coming Home with Confidence

A few months ago we shared a video following the story of Sebastian, a high school student who was traveling abroad for the first time. Now a college student at the University of Puerto Rico, we recently reconnected with him to learn how years later, his travel experience is still impacting him today.

You’ve taught your students about the world—now make the world their classroom. Take your students abroad and you can travel free!

It can be interesting to look back on your life and think about what it would be like without one experience or another. For Sebastian, it’s hard to imagine what his life would be like without traveling to Spain his sophomore year of high school.

Today, Sebastian is a psychology major at the University of Puerto Rico. On a daily basis, he attends classes, meets with his professors and classmates, and explores the island with his friends. While these may seem like common activities for a college student, they are activities that Sebastian once only dreamed of participating in. Before traveling to Spain, Sebastian suffered from social anxiety. Daily tasks like walking through the grocery store were crippling to him and the idea of traveling abroad was terrifying, but he now attributes a handful of his successes to that experience.

In high school, Sebastian attended a school for the arts and was most interested in architecture. He assumed that when he went off to college he would study architectural design. He was excited to see in Spain, the same images that he spent hours poring over in his textbooks. But on his trip something interesting happened.

“I loved that I got to put into practice what I had learned in the classroom, but I didn’t feel a sort of passion for it.”

Sebastian Spain

It was on this trip that Sebastian realized his true passion. His experiences abroad triggered a new interest in social psychology. Immersed in a new culture, he became increasingly curious and eager to understand how different cultures thought of themselves and how they perceived those who were not part of their day-to-day culture. And most importantly, what was it that influenced their thinking and behavior.

“It was just so interesting to see how people in cities around the world were exposed to different cultural traditions and influences. That experience made me want to know how the human mind works.”

But the trip didn’t only change his course of study; it changed his outlook on life. Looking back on the experience, Sebastian realized that the trip was also a kick start to overcoming his social anxiety.

“It’s been a long process and it can be annoying, but today, I can go to the supermarket and not fear what everyone thinks about me. I just live, I embrace the moment.”

The trip forced Sebastian to realize that he could put himself out there, that he was brave and capable of overcoming any obstacle that came his way. Being outside of his comfort zone, forced him to accept the fact that he needed to be willing to push himself. He realized that if he could do it in Spain, he could do it anywhere…including home.