“I came back realizing that these four years aren’t about becoming something great or discovering your destiny but about learning how to be a better person and how to be a member of a community, locally or globally.”
Back in the late summer before my junior year at Columbia, I spent a significant amount of time toying with the idea of studying abroad. My CSA adviser had suggested the Tropical Biology and Sustainability program in Kenya and suggested that I seek out more information through the Office of Global Programs & Fellowships. For four semesters, Kenya had been on the back of my mind, but, like many other Columbia students, I had trouble with the idea of parting from campus and the city.
So what was it that pushed me to study abroad and leave campus? Besides wanting to travel, I think that my decision to study abroad was, in part, a hope that it might give me some clarity on what I was truly interested in academically.
It would be a bit ridiculous to claim that during my time in Kenya that I somehow found that one path or that I discovered exactly what I want to do and who I want to be. Instead, and perhaps more importantly, I learned more about how to succeed as a student. Whether we were assessing streamflow to predict the effects of a dam installation, or interviewing stakeholders to reflect on the successes and failures of development projects, we always had to take an active role in organizing and carrying out each step of the task.
While my study abroad experience was definitely a period of growth, I truly think it was a time of “unbecoming,” and I say that in the most positive way. I spent three months in a relatively remote pocket of Kenya with five other students and only four professors. I don’t ever think I truly appreciated the importance of mindfulness before my time abroad. In Kenya, I found myself deconstructing my tendencies, my habits, and my likes and dislikes in order to better understand, empathize with, and listen to people who have radically different experiences from that of my own. I constantly had to think about who I thought I was and what I thought I stood for and reflect on those self-assessments.
You can only know why it’s worth it for you once you’ve been.
It’s hard to explain to someone why it is worth it to study abroad, and sacrifice one of only eight short semesters here at this amazing campus. Why? It’s difficult because you can only know why it’s worth it for you once you’ve been. You might leave with the intention to grow in one way, and instead grow in another. I left thinking I was going to truly learn if environmental science was my “path”. I came back realizing that these four years aren’t about becoming something great or discovering your destiny but about learning how to be a better person and how to be a member of a community, locally or globally.