In late 2008, I caught the travel bug. I didn’t really care about international travel until then. I was with my high school in northern Italy at a conference called World School, with students from 26 different countries gathered around the theme of food, water and safety. During my two weeks abroad —an experience entirely different from a family vacation or personal leisure trip to a foreign country—I developed friendships with people (student delegates, like myself) from all over the world. When the conference ended and I returned to my home state of Tennessee, I longed to go back to Italy.

The trip was different from a typical vacation because nearly every day we did something that got me out of my comfort zone: simple things, like navigating a bus system with a huge language barrier; continually introducing myself to strangers, from fellow students to members of the government; and less meaningful but more memorable things like trying real parmesan cheese from Parma, Italy after seeing (and smelling) the not-so-pleasant way it was made. We were able to develop such rich relationships because of our shared experiences. When, halfway through the trip, we shifted from staying in a hotel to home stays, we bonded over the nervousness that each of us had about whether or not the experience would be a success. And it was.

Going on that trip, meeting those people and, as a result, forming lasting relationships with them has had me itching to go abroad again and again. I’ve returned to Italy since but have not had the opportunity to meet with my friends from the trip. This May, I’m traveling with Concordia on a Summer School Abroad trip to Scotland. I’ll have the great pleasure of reconnecting with one of my friends from World School, who is now studying at the University of St. Andrews. We’ve stayed in touch for nearly four years.

The Summer School Abroad trip looks excellent. With extended stays in Scotland’s largest cities—Glasgow and Edinburgh—along with a three-day trek to the Highlands, I think it’ll be a top-notch time.

Traveling abroad is an essential part of a liberal arts education, and that is why the May Seminar and Summer School Abroad programs are so appealing to me. For an action-packed month you’re able to submerge yourself in a different culture while learning theoretical background in a classroom or, with the May Seminar format, before traveling, to create a memorable and meaningful trip.

If you’ve got the time (and the cash), traveling on a Concordia-sponsored seminar is an excellent way to 1) have a grand time, 2) have fresh ideas to bring to classroom discussions upon return and 3) develop lasting relationships, like the one I have with the St. Andrews student.

So my end of the year advice: Go abroad, get out of your comfort zone and share great stories.

Matt Hansen

Matt Hansen, a fourth-year student, writes The People's Republic of Matt, a politics column in Opinions. He double majors in political science and sociology at Concordia. On Twitter: @MattHansen

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