It was autumn in New England when I learned that my home university had accepted me into a study abroad program, and it was autumn in New England when I personally accepted I would be studying at the University of Wollongong in Australia for the second semester of my junior year in college. It was then that I realized all my hard work, dedication, and perseverance throughout my previous five semesters had been summed together to create this great accomplishment.

It was autumn in Australia when I boarded my flight in Sydney to set forth on a journey during my midsession break to backpack across the south island of New Zealand, and it was autumn in New Zealand when I discovered myself in the midst of new friends and endless kilometers. It was then that I realized even deeper all of the hard work, dedication, and perseverance throughout my entire existence had been summed together to create this great accomplishment.


It was the second day of our journey and daylight was quickly coming to an end. Fortunately, we found a campsite to spend the night in relatively easily. We arrived to the site, and realized that we were about to spend the night in the middle of a valley with mountains surrounding us. As we’re pitching the tent, building a fire, and making dinner, the sun was setting and a slow fog rolled in to set an even more beautiful surrounding. After we had our dinner around the fire, we found our way into the tent to get warm and talked about the amazing day we had just experienced. It was getting late and we decided it was time to wash up to get a good night’s sleep for the upcoming day of new adventures.


We made it outside the tent and started running around in the bitter cold darkness with newfound energy and joy. In the middle of laughter and screaming, it seemed to be that nearly everyone except myself had simultaneously used the new term we had learned earlier that day from our Danish friends, “kig op” which means,“look up”. It started to get quiet, and we all stopped in our tracks to surpass our vision higher than the blackened mountain peaks. This was the moment when I realized I had never before truly seen stars. Directly above us stretching across the entire length of the visible sky between the mountains was a belt of clustered stars – the Milky Way.


As the silence between us all prolonged and we stood mesmerized at the sight above us, a typhoon of emotions began to flood my insides. I was standing in the middle of this beautiful valley, and I began feeling every single feeling I had ever felt in my entire life all at once pulsate through my veins. Vivid flashbacks to moments in my life where I felt extreme emotions of heartache, joy, pain, serenity, excitement, sadness, guilt, anger, utter happiness, sorrow, etc., were coming at me full forced.


How to appropriately react to this array of emotions left me stunned. It suddenly became clear to me that the emotion I was feeling most was gratitude. Prior to leaving for Australia, the most important thing I wanted to obtain from my study abroad experience was to be able to grow more as an individual and discover more of myself. In this moment being surrounded by fog, mountains, friends, and the Milky Way, I had never felt more proud of myself for overcoming every obstacle I had ever been faced with in life. I felt so appreciative for living the life I had, and for everyone who had been part of it any in any possible way. I had sincerely never felt more grateful to simply be living and breathing while in that moment. Battling with many internal struggles throughout my entire life, it felt so reassuring to finally feel so relaxed and comfortable with every aspect of myself. I allowed myself to take a step back and realize that I am doing great at this whole “life” thing, and that the path in which I’m going is some place bright. In this moment, I achieved exactly what I needed out of my study abroad experience.


So my advice to students during their time abroad is to allow yourself to be moved. Allow yourself to have an open mind. Accept new things. Understand old things. Make realizations. Feel things fully. Appreciate every aspect of your life. Find the beauty in everything. Never miss out on an opportunity. Keep recharging and moving forward. Become grateful for all you have. Allow yourself to discover more of who you actually are as a human on this earth. Allow new experiences to mold you and never stop growing. Most importantly, never stop exploring. I promise you will never regret seeing and feeling as much of this life as you possibly can.