My name is Lauren Feder, and I am a recently graduated psychology major who was lucky enough to spend my last summer quarter as a UCSC student in Sorrento, Italy on a UCSC Global Seminar. As a graduating first-generation college student, who recently got admitted into graduate school to get my master’s in Mental Health Counseling, I never thought that I would have the time, guidance, or financial ability to study abroad. Traveling abroad with a group of younger undergraduate students made me aware of different facets of my identity and how they influenced my experience traveling abroad.
The need for financial aid was always a concern at the forefront of my desire to study abroad. My program abroad could not have been possible without the award I received from the Gilman Scholarship. The award fully covered my travel costs and enabled me to immerse myself in an experience I had been hoping to partake in since the start of my undergraduate career. That being said, I budgeted carefully by avoiding souvenir purchases, cooking in my apartment, and enjoying local fruiterias that shockingly sold produce for half the price of the states. While budgeting is natural to me, I realized that many of my program peers were not on a budget and held very different economic backgrounds.
The challenge this engendered was the temptation to engage in social comparison regarding budgeting, but also energy levels and partying. As someone who spent their last year of undergrad applying to graduate school, I definitely was experiencing some burnout during my program. While getting to see the southern coast of Italy was a dream come true, I did not have the same energy that a lot of my younger classmates on the program had. With being tired and on a budget, I was content spending my time outside of classes on the beach and roaming the town. Yet the actions of my other classmates who partied most nights, spending money to get into clubs and purchase expensive drinks, made me question my experience abroad and whether my version of traveling was normal or good enough.
As someone who is passionate about mental health, I was able to overcome these challenges of social comparison by offering myself self-compassion for being in a different headspace than those I was traveling with and reassuring myself through connecting with close friends over the phone. Additionally, holding honest conversations with a few students abroad about how their travels didn’t meet their romanticized expectations of being in Italy was meaningful in feeling less isolated. I was able to put things into perspective after about two weeks into my program and partake in activities I found personally valuable, without second-guessing myself and what I should be doing. While I don’t have a collection of wild nights to share, I grew a lot while abroad by finding value in my independence and listening to what my body needed.
Studying abroad taught me how our experiences traveling often deviate from our expectations. I have learned to ditch static expectations, and accept that my own idyllic version of traveling is going to be different than someone else’s. Being enrolled in classes while being abroad might not be an Eat, Pray, Love experience, but that does not mean it is not an experience worth having. I am immensely grateful for this trip. I feel much more prepared to travel again and have learned about my desire for genuine connection when in a new cultural environment. What I cherished most was conversations with locals who had the patience to listen to me speak sentences that encompassed both English and Italian, and weekend trips such as wandering the ruins of Pompeii. Perhaps most importantly, I realized that life doesn’t stop when you are traveling. I was looking for housing for the following month, while abroad. I couldn’t completely take a pause from the stresses of the near-changing future. Navigating stressors abroad allowed me to learn the necessity of managing mental wellness while traveling. This often looked like self-compassion, patience, seeking connection, and being flexible with adapting to a new environment. Getting to study abroad before I graduated is something I will be forever grateful for in teaching me how valuable it is to immerse myself in a new culture, while simultaneously engaging in self-reflection, and reminding myself of my strengths, resilience, and honoring my own values abroad.