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  • Ellie Lorraine

Study Abroad and the Pressure to be Great


PHOTO BY CARLOS IBÁÑEZ FROM UNSPLASH

When I first opened my acceptance letter to the John Felice Rome Center, Loyola Chicago’s study abroad campus, I was beyond ecstatic. I was shaking and beaming ear to ear, trying to stifle squeals of excitement and gleeful jumps—I had become a crazy person. I could not help it, I was that excited to move to a new country, start a new chapter, and explore more of the world.

After a few weeks, however, that excitement and ecstasy quickly dissolved into feelings of fear, sometimes terror. Suddenly, it felt like I had a giant anvil sitting on my chest, and the things I was once so excited about quickly became the source of my anxieties. I don’t speak Italian --; I won’t be able to communicate.

Will my classes be harder in Rome? I am going to have to learn how to navigate a whole new city! I won’t know where anything is!

Simultaneously, everyone around me was telling me how “once in a lifetime” this experience was going to be. I knew this was an amazing opportunity, and I was so grateful that I was able to do something like this, but how could I not be terrified? Everything was going to change, and I had no idea what my “new life” would look like.

Constantly hearing from everyone around me how marvelous life in Rome would be while I was spiraling with worry only added to my misery. I was feeling guilty about my fear, with this newly added pressure to make my experience as “worthwhile” and “fabulous” as everyone around me was claiming it would be.

How was I supposed to do that? It seemed like my pre-departure to-do list was constantly growing.

I have now been in Italy for about two months, traveling to some other countries along the way, and these pressures still weigh on me, though the fear has seemingly absolved itself for the most part.

Upon arriving and spending time here, moving about both the country and the continent, it still does not feel very “once in a lifetime” at all—quite the contrary. Instead, it simply feels like life, with its own routine and, at some points, mundanity. Rather than feeling extraordinary, now that I am here this experience feels, in some ways, very ordinary.

However, I think that newly discovered commonplace and routine, in a place so far away and different from home, is what makes this adventure so unique. My peers and I have been able to experience new parts of the world and meet dozens of different people. But more importantly, we have shown ourselves that we can survive, thrive, and succeed thousands of miles from home base, with an ocean between us and what we know. We have proven that we can jump in the water with both feet and still stay afloat. That, I think, is what makes this experience and this new chapter so remarkable.

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