Finding Myself Abroad

A personal account of studying abroad in Moosburg, Germay

When I was a high school student, I was lucky enough to be able to study abroad in Germany when I was 16 and 18. We had an arrangement with a German high school in the town of Moosburg where students in the 10th grade would travel to America for a month to live with host families, and then the Americans could live with the students they hosted. I was able to host three times, and it was wonderful becoming friends with Michael, Christian, Dominik, and everyone I got to meet.

An unexpected opportunity

The opportunity to study abroad didn’t initially strike me as something I expected to be life-changing, at least not at 16. I was excited to see a new country and culture, but I fully expected to return to my hometown in Ohio the same person I was when I left. It seemed cliché to expect myself to grow or change much in a few weeks. I underestimated what a profound affect a study abroad experience could have.

Pre-travel apprehension

Like many 16 year olds, I worried a lot about what my peers thought of me. Or even worse, what I thought they thought about me. Especially when you’ve been in classes with the same people for a number of years, you can start to feel like you’re stuck being the person everyone expects you to be. I would try too hard to be accepted, which would often backfire. My concern about what other students thought about me would lead me to be more timid in my decisions, because I would second-guess myself based on how others might react.

Changes I noticed abroad

I didn’t notice it right away, but something began to change in me while I was living in Germany. Part of it definitely could be attributed to spending a lot of time with the other students from my school that I didn’t normally hang out with. While we might have been parts of different social circles back home, here we were all friends on the same adventure. We bonded almost instantly, and the imaginary boundaries that seemed to separate us dissolved quickly.

The most profound impact came from interacting with the other German students. While I was still carrying around my sense of where I fit in to the social hierarchy back home, I began to realize that this wasn’t how anyone else saw me. To the people I was meeting I was just William, the new American exchange student they were excited to meet. Their impression of me wasn’t based on any preconceived notions, and they were interested in knowing about who I really was. I soon understood that the people I met in Germany didn’t care at all about what the popular kids back home thought about me.

Looking back with appreciation

When I look back, I can see how big of an impact this had on my self-confidence. I returned from my time abroad far less concerned about how other people perceived me or what misconceptions they might have. By stepping out of my comfort zone into the wider world, I gained a new appreciation for my ability to make friends and connect with people wherever my life might take me. I’m thankful for the memories of my time abroad, but the lessons I learned were truly invaluable. For opening your eyes to a wider perspective about yourself and the world around you, I don’t think there’s anything more transformative than studying abroad.

– William Wardlaw, Moosburg Study Abroad ’98 & ’00

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