A leap of faith and study abroad changes lives

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Caitline Miller

“It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap,” sings Elphaba from Wicked.

Along with my overstuffed suitcase, my passport and travel guidebook, I carried these words in my heart and mind as I boarded my flight at JFK airport and embarked on my study abroad journey this past October.

My destination: the University of Oxford in England.

While this travel mantra happens to be a lyric from “Defying Gravity,” my favorite songs from Wicked, it also embodies my overall attitude prior to leaving for England. As a commuter who lives less than 30 minutes from the Assumption College campus, before leaving I hadn’t had any experience living away from home for more than a few days at a time.

Personally, living away from home just was never right for me. As a result, from the start of my college life, studying abroad was just about the last thing on my mind. However, as I progressed through my undergraduate years and began to fall in love with British literature, film and basically every aspect of the English culture, I found myself having the urge to take the plunge and experience the country firsthand. It was a big step for a self-proclaimed homebody and “small town girl.”

After a lot of thought, about a year after deciding to apply for the Oxford program and receiving the acceptance email, I found myself on a flight bound for Heathrow Airport.

And boy, am I glad that I (figuratively) closed my eyes and took that leap.

Even now, as I write this, I still feel as if Oxford was a dream. I’m afraid that I will wake up one day and the wonderful two months that I spent there will have all been in my mind.

In fact, the entire city is like a dream. Walking down the cobblestone streets and staring up at buildings dating back to medieval times instantly transports you to a different age. History is everywhere, and for a history major like me who is fascinated by every aspect of England’s rich and complex history, Oxford is heaven on earth. For example, I walked on the creaky wooden floorboards of the Bodleian, one of the world’s oldest and most renowned libraries, and breathed in the scent of tomes dating back hundreds of years. I sat inside breathtaking cathedrals in which the stained glass windows alone made me teary-eyed. I got to hold a first-edition copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park that was part of my college’s rare book collection, and at that moment, I felt the closest I ever had to one of my favorite authors.

The unique “tutorial” academic system at Oxford, by which students write weekly essays and discuss their writing one-on-one with subject specialists called tutors, was intimidating at first, to say the least. However, it was one of the most enriching experiences of my academic career. Thanks to my history and English literature tutors, I became a better writer, and I am now able to more effectively articulate my ideas, both in verbal discussions and in my writing.

The most valuable experience that I took from my semester at Oxford, however, is the confidence that I gained by stepping outside my comfort zone and living in a foreign country. The experiences that I had and the amazing friends that I made all helped me to find a strength inside myself that I never knew was there.

Now, in my final semester at Assumption, I am ready for whatever the future has to offer. I won’t be afraid to take chances, no matter how unfamiliar new experiences may seem. It is not an exaggeration when I say that studying abroad changed my life. Now, whatever life has to offer after graduation, I will be ready to take a leap for that, as well.

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