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    Posted March 14, 2014 by
    Nairobi, Kenya
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

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    A Risk Worth Taking

    As I write this from Nairobi, Kenya, I think back to my experiences as a student abroad and feel a great sense of accomplishment. The greatest truth about my college experience is that the times when I felt the most challenged were those in which I learned the most. I used to work at my university’s study abroad office where the maxim “there is no growth in a comfort zone and there is no comfort in a growth zone” reigned supreme. This is a good motto for life as a whole.

    Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of studying abroad not once or twice, but three times! My first journey abroad was to the enchanting town of Perugia, Italy, where I spent seven months enrolled at a language school for foreigners and then the local University of Perugia for Italian students. I look back to the semester I spent enrolled at the University of Perugia with great pride because, in completing all of my International Relations coursework in Italian alongside local students, I proved a great deal to myself. After returning to the U.S., I had lost many of my reservations about speaking up in class and in public. After all, if I had been able to do it in a foreign language—and do it well—what exactly was stopping me from doing it in one of my dominant languages?

    My second experience abroad was also my first venture outside of the Western world. After spending a month in Amman, Jordan studying Modern Standard and colloquial Jordanian Arabic, my world was expanded tenfold. Traveling to a region so misunderstood in American politics allowed me to get a real grasp of Jordan and the rest of the Middle East’s culture. Most importantly, I learned a lot about the importance of opening and maintaining meaningful dialogue across cultures. I returned home with a burning desire to see more of the non-Western world and thereby further stimulate my thirst for knowledge and understanding.

    And so that is how I ended up in Nairobi where I now study Swahili under the guidance of a Russian professor, intern at the SOS Children’s Village in the Buru Buru neighborhood of the city, and form friendships with Africans from all across the continent. After a collective year of my life abroad I can tell you that, in my experience, those young people who go abroad are among the most curious individuals I have ever met.

    They are the greatest risk-takers and those who have an insatiable need to constantly turn their world upside down in order to learn who they truly are. Perhaps most importantly, though, they are those who realize that we are all in need of a great deal of help on our paths to reach our goals. For me, my experiences abroad would never have been possible without scholarships. To all those individuals and organizations that made them possible, then, I am forever grateful.

    Yes, going abroad can definitely be scary. But part of what makes these experiences unbelievably rewarding is that when it’s all said and done you see yourself in a completely different light. You pushed the envelope and you succeeded. The boost in self-confidence and cultural understanding that ensue are entirely worth any trials and tribulations you may face.

    Ultimately, what going abroad really does for you is better prepare you for success.
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