When applying to colleges, aside from wanting a top academic institution, I was open to a plethora of options. However, one of my requirements was to find a school that offered the flexibility to study abroad for a full semester, regardless of the major.
After spending a summer in Spain studying Spanish between my junior and senior years of high school, I knew I wanted to spend a semester overseas.
During family weekend in the fall of my sophomore year at Lehigh, I attended a study abroad information session. By the spring I had met with a study abroad advisor — a full year before I even planned to go. She discussed my options and handed me several brochures. The possibilities were endless, and I was ecstatic.
I began researching almost every country in Europe. Finally, I landed on Denmark. I filled out an application and was admitted before I even took my finals that spring. I still had months before I left, but I was ready.
I bought my plane tickets and began planning my European adventures. I studied the courses and crafted a schedule of classes that sounded amazing. Over the summer I texted my friends from Lehigh, my home and camp to find out who would be studying abroad that spring. I planned weekend travels to numerous destinations. My grandparents even planned a trip to Paris during one of my school breaks and invited me to join them.
When I returned to school in the fall, while I was excited about Denmark, I quickly realized I was not thrilled about leaving Lehigh. I was in a quandary.
Studying abroad had always been a dream of mine, however, I was not prepared to leave my life in Bethlehem. I made lists, weighed pros and cons and contemplated for hours, days and weeks whether to stay or go. I couldn’t help but think I was somehow letting myself — and my travel mates, particularly my grandparents — down by giving up this opportunity.
While it was a difficult decision to make, I ultimately chose to stay. Once my decision was finalized, the weeks of stress and anxiety disappeared and I was elated with my choice.
Rarely does anyone discuss the positives of the decision to not go abroad. For me, however, staying at Lehigh opened the door to so many possibilities.
First, the reason I am able to write this piece is I became an editor for The Brown and White. As a journalism major, I have been writing for the paper since my sophomore year. I finally decided to apply to be an editor when my adviser and professor, Matt Veto, convinced me I had the knowledge and the skill to thrive on the editorial staff.
Becoming an editor truly changed the course of my Lehigh career.
I have gained incredible hands-on experience in the newsroom, voiced my opinion on the editorial board and learned how to report “breaking news” while making incredible friends in the process. I will not be able to reflect on my Lehigh experience without immediately thinking of The Brown and White.
It doesn’t stop there.
By staying at Lehigh I was able to pursue a communications minor, in addition to the journalism major and sociology minor I was already working toward.
Other opportunities began to present themselves, too.
Had I gone abroad, I would have deleted countless emails containing opportunities. I was able to participate in Lehigh Silicon Valley over winter break, a 10-day entrepreneurship program in San Francisco that opened my eyes to so many opportunities. I learned about the world of start-ups in the Silicon Valley. My group met CEOs and visited world-famous companies. It was an inspiring experience that will now help me shape my upcoming career search.
Finally, I was able to strengthen bonds with friends at school and forge new ones that I’ll cherish forever.
Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but staying at Lehigh also provided many once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
While I chose to forgo my original plan of studying and traveling abroad, I could not be happier with the decision. I have never looked back regarding my choice and I am so thankful for everything I gained from my ‘extra semester’ in Bethlehem. I have my whole life to explore the world, but only a finite amount of time at Lehigh.
Never let your plans hold you back. Don’t be afraid to change your mind.
Alexis McGowan, ’19, is the lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]