UMD: A Globally Connected University

Colton Seigel

Colton Seigel

Term: Spring 2017
Major: French, GOVT & POLIT

My semester studying in Nice was single-handedly the most formative period of my college years. Having previously traveled internationally and residing with a host family, I wanted to challenge myself; I opted to live alone in my own studio apartment. This living situation – despite its unavoidable challenges – forced me to engrain myself in my neighborhood. I would argue that this circumstance gave me a more authentic experience abroad than most others can claim. Living alone also forced me to interact with my classmates more often to learn about the city and BE SOCIAL. In turn, my studio turned into an oasis on days when I didn't want to interact or simply wanted a break from the routine of being out and about in the city, meeting people and doing things. Putting myself in these situations far outside my comfort zone donned me with toolkit of self-awareness and resourcefulness unlike anything else I'd ever previously experienced. For that, I will be eternally grateful. 

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: Don't limit yourself. Obviously, it bodes well to be well-versed on the region in which you will be living, as well as any type of cultural and/or legal phenomena relevant to your identity. That said, live your life confidently and find ways in which to seek others who identify similarly. Especially in large cities, there are always neighborhoods and establishments catered to making people feel more comfortable and at ease. Seek them out, and always be open to new opportunities! This is the best time to try and new and improved YOU! ​

My most memorable experience is the general sentiment of feeling more like myself than ever before – not in a trite way that lacks robustness and diminishes after a few weeks or months, but a truly sustainable and fruitful lifestyle, physically, emotionally, and mentally. From my day to day routine, to my diet, to my balance between work and fun, everything felt like it *fit* better than ever before; I knew that if my life situation were to transition from school to work, I would be equally happy with my circumstances. This was particularly evident my final night in Nice before departing. I made plans with two of my classmates, both of whom were much older than me and native Spanish speakers. They didn't speak English; French was our only lingua franca. We enjoyed a long meal together – the entire evening lasted more than five hours, with no other entertainment than one another's company and our shared conversation. It struck me often that night – how I had gone from intermediate comfort with my language ability to full-scale social interaction with people whom I hadn't known mere months earlier and now proved irreplaceable in my life. The novelty of the situation was overwhelmingly blissful, and I will forever remember how that memory – and so many like it – truly made me feel alive. 

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad:  Though magical and uniquely memorable as a whole, study abroad comes with some nitty gritty as well – especially if you live alone (which I highly, highly recommend, if you have even the slightest desire). Most people romanticize study abroad as this fantastical experience with nothing but an easy workload, copious travel, and new social opportunities. On the other hand, there are plenty of mundane rainy days, days you feel like coming home and curling up into a ball to sleep, and days where you find homesickness to be truly debilitating. From my own experience, and from those experiences of some of my peers, I've found that, academically, a semester abroad can be as easy or as difficult – and therefore more fruitful – as you make it. Any time you travel for an extended period of time, your time away from home doesn't qualify as a "trip" or, worse, a "vacation." You build a routine, and therefore deal with the ups and downs – sometimes banalities – of day to day life experienced no matter where you find yourself on the globe. At the end of the ride, however, I've yet to meet a person who wouldn't do it all over again. 

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the hardest part about studying abroad is returning home. When you return, you'll encounter a vast array of emotions: happiness at being reunited with your friends, family, and home, nostalgia for the life you've just departed, and a whole new kind of culture shock. Some may ask you about your "trip," others may not. People typically don't ask questions about experiences or phenomena with which they have little experience; therefore, if they don't relate, they don't care. 

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad:  It's not a "trip," nor a "vacation." You lived and studied, and should take ownership of the authenticity of your experience compared to a two-week tour of Western Europe, South America, or Southeast Asia. Use language like "I lived in [location] and studied for a semester/year," as opposed to "I spent a semester abroad." Highlight the uniqueness of your experience. It's not fair that "abroad" primes no other thought than "Oh, they weren't here."​