As my time in Poland comes to an end and I prepare for one more round of final papers, presentations, and meetings with friends I have begun to reflect on on how different my life here has been in comparison to the one I put on pause in Nebraska and how those differences have changed me as both a student and a person. I make this distinction because often people think that purpose of going abroad is specifically academic, and to some extent, it is. However, the majority of my growth over the past academic year has taken place off campus and outside of the classroom. Instead of crafting the perfect thesis at every corner, I’ve learned to create and have dialogues that I cannot have at home. Rather than living for an exam, I’ve spent the year living for experiences and seeing sites that will be out of reach in just a couple of weeks. Of course, I’ve definitely taken the time to study, particularly when it comes to the political and cultural shifts that are visibly changing Poland, but while nine short months ago I would have only examined these changes behind the screen of a laptop or between the covers of a book, I am now actively witnessing them with analyses provided by professionals who call this country home.
This past year has also changed my outlook on my future and my home state significantly. When I initially applied to attend the University of Wrocław, I was actively seeking a change of pace. I had recently concluded what I consider to be the most difficult year in my academic career and questioning whether or not my future would be in Nebraska, and if not, where would I go? My time in Poland provided with clarity when it came to these topics and reassurance in the fact that sometimes it’s impossible to know. I’ve become more relaxed and flexible when it comes to setbacks, both personally and academically, and a new found acceptance of deviations to my “master plan” seem far less intimidating than they did last fall. This is not to say that I don’t take my education and future seriously, but it does mean that I’ve allowed myself more room to expand my horizons and embrace situations that would have only caused me frustration in the past.
When it comes to Nebraska, I have to admit, I miss it far more than I thought I would at the beginning of this experience. Of course, I never had any doubt that I would miss my friends and family (and a special thanks to each of them that has worked with my strange schedule and across time zones just to say hello), but I was skeptical of missing the slow pace of my small hometown. As it comes time to consider my return, though, I am far more excited than I expected to spend some time back in the routine that has, love it or hate it, always been home. As I move from the short grace period of reconnecting with family and friends, I will also embark on my final year of college. Before long, I will be writing a thesis and rushing to finish final projects, but I will also have the opportunity to work with international students at my home university and my peers that have decided to go abroad through my university’s Office of Global Engagement. I will also be able to welcome the newest class of students to the campus I have considered a second home for the last four years, and for that I am all the more prepared because of the experience I have gained over this past year.
Perhaps the largest impact that going to Poland has had on me is the affirmation I am capable and excited by the prospect of living and learning abroad. I have gained a support group on an international scale that has encouraged and inspired me since my first day in Wrocław, and these factors have ultimately led me to consider the pursuit of a master’s degree abroad with a focus on development, security, and the impact of a globalizing world. If someone had asked me a year ago about my plans after undergraduate study, I would likely have smiled and politely declared that I first had to get through the semester at hand. Now, I am looking forward to finding a place to continue my education even further and taking my experiences with me on the long journey back home as the next chapter in my life unfolds. Although I cannot pick one single event during my time here that led to a life changing epiphany, my collective experiences have ultimately changed me for the better and I am beyond excited to translate them into a new perspective on my once familiar life back home.