For better or for worse, most students that have studied abroad are quick to bring it up in conversation to varying degrees of relevance, myself included. However, when making what is genuinely a big life decision, these clichéd, simplistic musings of “it changed my life,” “the food’s better,” and “they party harder,” won’t help you much. The difficulty of this decision is only amplified by the fact that we already go to school in an incredible location. It can certainly be hard to leave — so why should you?
I studied abroad at the Maastricht University School of Business & Economics in the fall of 2022, my third year. I applied on a whim, knowing nothing about Maastricht and only having spent roughly 72 hours in the Netherlands, all in Amsterdam. I’d known for a while that I was interested in studying abroad, as both of my parents did and that was how they met in Austria. Their stories over the years certainly pushed me towards the positive regarding the decision. However, as many students likely feel, I was hesitant to leave UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). As an out-of-state student who is also graduating a year early, my opportunity cost was quite high. However, it felt right — and so I did it.
What I can say now, back at UCSB, is there are undeniable aspects of going abroad that you just can’t quite get here. I don’t think that there was ever a single moment in which I realized that my decision was worth it; rather, once I arrived, there was never any question. Not only did I make lifelong friends from all over Europe (with whom I plan to meet up with again this summer), I had the opportunity to live in a different culture, attend a different kind of university — which entailed a very different, more personal learning style that really resonated with me — and travel freely to so many other incredible places.
The close friends that I made in Maastricht can honestly be more accurately described as family. The university is a very international one — I fell in first with the Spaniards, going out with them to the parks during the day and the clubs at night. The Italians took me in too, and we cooked meals together (or they taught me how to cook them) and danced before parted balcony curtains, our voices carrying out into the street below. In my classes, it was the Dutch and German locals I bonded with as we debated politics, comparing our worldviews while pouring ourselves into our projects and interactive classwork. I made some of my best friends in that small, stone-gray town and I can’t wait to go visit and see them all again.
I also feel obligated to mention that the United States has one of the highest “club-entering” ages in the world, and the scenes I experienced in Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, and Barcelona make wandering Del Playa a hilarious concept. People also actually dance, which is quite the change of pace from many of the Isla Vista (I.V.) parties I was used to.
Perhaps most important of all was the opportunity to learn how to live independently in an entirely foreign place. If you do go, I strongly recommend going alone as I did. I was forced to quite literally figure out how to survive. I had to learn how to get around the city and to class, where to get food and cooking supplies, how to communicate with the locals with only a primitive understanding of Dutch, and how to make friends who spoke different languages, among many other more minor things one wouldn’t ever think about until confronted with them.
My semester abroad forged me into an entirely independent, self-reliant, and self-motivated person, and all because I had to be. A stark contrast to the familiar-face-feel of UCSB and I.V. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I came back entirely different — exponentially more productive, happier, healthier, with more understanding of myself, and with stronger routines and motivation.
One big concern I often hear about abroad is in regards to academics, and the transferring of class credits counting for majors. I see why this appears daunting, yet the process is a lot easier once one is in it. There are multiple tools to check whether specific classes abroad will count for credit here based on precedent, and advisors are always on standby to help. My experience with applying and registering for classes, another concern, was also seamless. You are walked through the entire process, and as long as you are proactive and don’t miss the generous deadlines, you’ll be just fine. In terms of units, I was able to take more in my fall semester in the Netherlands than I would have in the fall quarter here. Studying abroad actually helped me to graduate a year earlier.
So, is studying abroad for you? I’ll make it simple: if you enjoy traveling, meeting new people, and are willing to throw yourself into a different culture for a while, then please go for it. This is too good of an opportunity to pass up. However, it is understandable if you place a lot of value on stability, you aren’t interested in other cultures, don’t enjoy the learning style and professors here, or you simply cannot leave the beach. Studying abroad isn’t for everyone. That being said if it appeals to you at all — if deep down you feel like you want the adventure — I would say it is worth it! You’ll never have such a simple, straightforward opportunity to so easily live in another country. Go, and have the time of your life.