Lauren Smith, Staff Writer

One of the many benefits of being a Florida Southern student is your guaranteed opportunity to travel abroad during your junior or senior year. Students have a wide array of choices from experiencing music in Taiwan, learning about time-shares in Cancun or studying science in France. Most of these trips are “Junior Journeys” and last anywhere from a week to a month. When it came my turn to study abroad, I took a bit more daring option and opted for the semester long stay in London, England.

I had never been outside the country before, excluding my day in Mexico when my family and I took a cruise when I was twelve, so to say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was also the first person in my family to even own a passport. This trail was mine to blaze, but I had no map besides the advice given from the Florida Southern Travel office and Buzzfeed videos that informed me to stay away from those pickle flavored British chips – for the record, those chips weren’t so bad.

I remember stepping on the plane and contemplating turning around because I didn’t know if I could travel to a whole new continent and live there for four months on my own. Well, thank goodness I sucked in my breath and stayed aboard, because those four months in Europe were some of the best in my life.

I made so many new friends at the school I attended in London, most of whom were also new to travelling. The bond I formed with my travel buddies is one that can never be broken, and now I know whenever I’m ready for my next adventure, they’re the ones to call!

Besides the extraordinary city of London, I had the opportunity to visit several destinations in Europe including Amsterdam, Scotland, Wales, Spain and France. Each city had its own story to tell and cultures that were so immersive and interesting. I now have so many of my own stories to tell for many years to come. I’m sure I’ll be telling my kids of the time my friends and I got lost in Barcelona – granted, there are worse places to get lost – when I ate my first duck liver sandwich in Paris or what it felt like to hike to the top of one of the highest peaks in Scotland.

Every moment I spent exploring the world was a learning experience that taught me more than I ever could have learned in four years sitting in a classroom. Traveling to countries that did not speak English encouraged me to start learning a new language and communicate with locals. Physical contact and even eye contact are perceived in different ways all over the world, so I had to learn what was appropriate in each country and what could be perceived as friendly and even offensive to different cultures. It’s amazing how things I normally would not even think about in America, something as simple as waving to somebody, is perceived differently in other parts of the world.

Upon returning to the states and settling back into the normal routine of classes and sipping Starbucks in Tutus, I see the world in a whole different way and feel like I have become a much more confident, brave and happy person after my adventures. I conquered my fears and doubts, saw places I never believed in a million years I’d ever get to see and made unbreakable friendships that will always have a special place in my heart.

I once heard the saying, “we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” I could nod my head and condone that saying all I wanted before I had ever stepped foot out of the country, but after spending an entire semester abroad, I now truly understand what that anonymous genius meant. Traveling really did change my life and opened my eyes to how small the world I had always known really is compared to the rest of it.

My advice to anyone contemplating on whether or not to study abroad, do it. Keep your mind open and free while you explore, because it really will change you for the better.