Opinion: Why studying abroad changes your life

I think about the movie Casablanca a lot. “We’ll always have Paris.” That’s the line I think about. No, I didn’t study abroad in Paris. I’ve actually never even been to Paris. I spent my three months abroad in London, but that’s not relevant. Yet.

If you’ve never seen the movie Casablanca, I’m about to spoil the ending. It’s about this bitter lonely dude named Rick who runs a café in Morocco during World War II. One day, the love of his life shows up at the café with her husband, who’s an important leader in the underground resistance against the Nazis in Europe. Long story short, Rick and this girl fell in love in Paris and got separated when the Germans showed up. They’re still totally in love, but when they get the opportunity to run away together, Rick gives her that speech in the video above, telling her that they can never be together and that she needs to stay with her husband. I personally have never done anything that selfless or epic, but I’ll try to explain why I always think about it when I get reminded about my time abroad.

Whether you’re a freshman who doesn’t even know what the Hovey House is or a senior who spent last year Skyping friends while they were all over the globe, you’ve definitely heard someone call studying abroad “the best thing I did at BC.” I don’t know if it’s a fair way to describe it, since it’s a three- or four-month experience that’s really more than one “thing,” plus the fact that by definition it’s not “at BC,” but whatever. Everyone loves it but no one is very good at explaining why. I’m going to try.

And if you’re one of the people I make read my articles every week someone who’s read either this article about love or this one about senioritis, you know by now that my favorite thing in the world is breaking stuff down based around music videos. This time, we’re (obviously) going with a British artist. Who? Oasis. Why? Let me explain.

1. Deciding to go abroad.

Everyone hears about how awesome studying abroad is and thinks, "Wow, maybe I should go abroad somewhere." Hold up. Deciding whether or not you want to go abroad is the second question you need to ask yourself when you’re planning your semester overseas. The first question is where you’d go. It may sound illogical, but studying abroad isn’t a chance to get away from BC – it’s a chance to spend a quarter of a year living somewhere that you’ve always wished you could live.

Two of my favorite Gavel writers are currently abroad in Italy, one because it’s the land of his ancestors, the other because she loves food "10,000 times" as much as the rest of us. Even though I’m Italian myself (shocking with a name like Rossi, I know), I never considered going anywhere besides London. And as odd as it may sound, it was because of Oasis.

Throughout high school, I played guitar in a rock band. Like most kids who can say that, I had posters of dudes named Lennon, Hendrix and Cobain hanging in my bedroom, but unlike anyone I’ve ever met, my absolute favorite band was a group that blew up in the mid-90’s and is only remembered today in this country for one album. I loved that band as much as Jenna LaConte loves pasta for reasons that could fill their own article and I found it creepily symbolic that they broke up just a few days before I moved into CLXF for my freshman year at BC.

Before that happened though, I spent time I probably should’ve used for studying, or at least getting out of the house, sitting at a piano learning the melodies and chords from Oasis records on my mom’s old out-of-tune piano in our family dining room. Before I took any music theory classes and learned the definition of a dominant chord, I knew it as the part in “Champagne Supernova” that made me feel like the gates of heaven were about to open up. When I wasn’t figuring out how to play the band’s songs, I was trying to write my own. And as you probably guessed, my songs sounded a whole lot like Noel Gallagher’s.

I spent high school obsessing over a band from a place I’d never been (I even chose Noel as my confirmation name). For me, spending a semester abroad wasn’t an opportunity to go sightseeing around Europe. It was a chance to breathe the same air and soak in the same culture that helped shape those songs that I loved so much. It may sound odd to anyone else, but you don’t go abroad for anyone else. If you have some similar feelings towards some foreign city or country, no matter the reasons behind them, studying abroad there is the best and maybe only chance you’ll ever have to act on them.

Side note: I know that the members of Oasis are from Manchester, but they moved to London as soon as they got their record deal so as far as I’m concerned that’s where the magic happened. Plus, I got to go see a private Noel Gallagher concert in a London BBC recording studio, and the whole thing felt like that scene in The Lion King when Mufasa’s ghost comes out of the sky and tells Simba the meaning of life. IT WAS THE GREATEST THING EVER.

2. The drinking age.

As someone who can read Surgeon General’s warnings, I don’t condone smoking of cigarettes, and as someone who loves food and caffeine, I don’t really believe that alcohol alone could possibly keep a human being alive for very long. None of that has anything to do with why I included this song or this section, but it bears mentioning nonetheless.

Anyway, let’s not beat around the bush. College kids love to party, but at BC, you are forbidden from doing so until you turn 21 years old. Say what you want about the drinking age in the US, but the rest of the world says that it should be 18 or lower. And from what I saw when I was abroad, the rest of the world seems to have gotten it right.

Before I even left for London, I talked to a few juniors and seniors who told me that in Europe, the way many American college kids consume alcohol – rapidly and recklessly – would be considered bizarre at the least. And they were totally right. Because Europeans don’t have to hide their drinking from RA’s and can buy alcohol basically whenever they want, they don’t shoot a full night’s worth of liquor down their throats in under an hour and then stumble around like a hot mess until they pass out.

The opportunity to drink legally before turning 21 isn’t just great because it lets students have fun doing things they’d get in trouble for at BC. It’s a chance to learn to drink safely and responsibly in a climate in which binge drinking plays a far less prevalent role than in the one to which they’ll return. Plus, it puts the absurdity of vodka-water-bottle-boy and similar characters into perspective for those of us who aren’t or weren’t enlightened enough to see it when we were freshmen.

3. Living in the moment.

“You could have it all but how much do you want it?”

This question is the single greatest lyric in rock history. YOLO 17 years before YOLO.

I can obviously only speak from my own experience, but for me, going abroad represented the first time that I could make decisions and take actions just to enjoy them, rather than for the sake of working towards something. Yes, you take classes when you’re abroad and yes, those classes count towards that goal of graduating, but as far as everything else? You’re finally getting to enjoy what you’ve been working towards and looking forward to doing. And I’m not going to lie, it’s wicked liberating.

When you’re abroad, anything you do short of catching a disease or losing a limb will not follow you home. Even if you wanted to, you can’t do much in the way of networking for an internship, positioning yourself for a run at the UGBC presidency or bloodying the totem pole of the Gavel editorial board on your way to becoming Managing Editor (just kidding).

Like it or not, you’re going to have the chance to do things you never would have the opportunity to do at BC and more of them than you can count. I joined the King’s College London varsity basketball team and spent three months balling on dudes with very unintimidating accents. Sadly, Coach Donahue has not asked me to walk on since I returned to Chestnut Hill.

Perhaps even more importantly, going abroad gives you the chance to re-do freshman year without making all the mistakes you made as a freshman. You can make the first impression you want to make, and spend your time having fun instead of missing everyone you know since you’ve had two-plus years to learn to deal with homesickness.

Plus, nobody knows whether or not you actually have Bieber Oasis-level swagger, so even if you didn’t before you get there, you can fake it until you realize you actually are that cool. After all, you are American and they’re not, which automatically makes you better.  

Frankly, I wish I could always be the person my friends in London think I am. *Pauses to look at this picture.* Oh wait. I AM. And it's all because I studied abroad.

4. Meeting – then leaving – your friends.

As far as I’m concerned, “Live Forever” is the greatest song about friendship ever recorded. And if you've made it this far without gaining a single thing, I hope you click play on that YouTube video, hear “Live Forever” for the first time and attain enlightenment and nirvana all at once. Did you click play yet? Good. Let’s move on.

I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating – I would take a bullet for a lot of the people I met in London. Honestly I wish I could’ve brought them all back with me and had them crash in my Mod. I couldn’t though, and the whole time I was there, we all knew it.

Knowing I had to do it didn’t make leaving any easier, but it made me appreciate the time I’ve got left here at BC with my friends infinitely more, and hopefully I’ll be better prepared for graduation because of it.

The obvious counterargument to that statement is “I had to say goodbye to all my high school friends when I graduated from there!” It's not the same at all though, because you spend your entire winter break freshman year of college back in your hometown hanging with those friends and again during the summer between freshman and sophomore year. Over the course of college, you slowly phase out the high school friends you realize you can live without, until by senior year you’re only still in contact with the people you’ll probably maintain relationships with for the rest of your life.

Coming back from abroad is much more like graduating college. Every single one of your friends from abroad gets cut off in one instant like the chop of an ax and all you’ve got left to communicate with them through is Facebook and WhatsApp.

If that scenario sounds too heartbreak to deal with, trust me it’s not. It’s close, but ultimately it’s not.

Making those friends and then saying goodbye to them gives you a new appreciation for everything and everyone that matters to you. It’s not the sightseeing, the traveling or even the partying that people are referring to when they say that studying abroad was an incredible experience that changed their lives. It’s those new-found friendships and that new-found perspective.

If that doesn’t convince you to study abroad, this piece is probably the only thing that will. Don’t spend your whole life wondering how different you’d be if you’d done it. To tie this back to Casablanca, London was my Paris, and you can ask anyone who went anywhere else and you’ll hear the same thing.

P.S. - The gratuitous “Wonderwall” reference.

I came this close to writing over 2,000 words about Oasis without mentioning this song. Without further ado: LONDON. YOU’RE MY WONDERWALL.

Ask Rob Rossi questions about studying abroad or just geek out with him about Britpop @RVRossi

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