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#HonorsProblems: How to Study Abroad Without Going into Anaphylactic Shock

The following blog post was written by Peer Advisor Ryan, a junior studying English, creative writing, and linguistics.

My name’s Ryan. This is me, perched with aquiline grace upon a rock on the Pacific coast of Chile as I naturalistically sip on a crisp, refreshing Coca-Cola. Beneath my prolific brand influencer appearance, though, you might be surprised (or, if you’ve spent a lot of time with me, entirely unsurprised) to know that I sometimes have trouble figuring out what’s the best path for me.

Now, hold on, I see you getting ready to fling your laptop across the room, enraged that you’re being engaged in a philosophical discussion. But stick with me! My story doesn’t have any Plato, Lao Tzu, or Lola Ralkowski—but it may still be a good example of how you, as a uniquely wonderful Honors student, can choose the path that’s uniquely you.

Like I said, I sometimes have trouble figuring out my way, especially when it comes to separating what’s best for other people from what’s best for me. In the case of this story, my indecision manifested as a battle between two forces: the desire to study abroad, and my, shall we say, temperamental relationship with milk products. Although I have many, many eccentricities (you can ask Mary and Ben), one of my most iconic is my anaphylactic dairy allergy. Eating it in any form, from butter to cheese to chocolate, can potentially send me to the hospital. Cool, huh? Typically, I don’t have big issues with it, but when it came time for me to consider studying abroad, I thought about it a lot.

What would I do in another country for four months? My caution and general allergy paranoia meant that I didn’t feel very comfortable eating local food, but I certainly couldn’t eat dairy free chips and granola bars for that much time. But still, I felt pressured to do that anyway—pressured by the looming judgmental voice saying that studying abroad for a whole semester is what everyone does. What was I, a fragile loaf of bread in the oven of life, to do?

Then, like a clarion call from the highest Heavens, the idea came to me:

(Actually, it was from another UHP student who I sat with in Math & Politics. Don’t let anyone tell you that G-PAC requirements won’t help you in life.)

Summer Study Abroad.

That’s how, after sophomore year ended, I spent the first month of the summer in Valparaiso, Chile, somewhere I’d wanted to visit since I was 15 (as I said, I’m a slightly weird person). Even though the food selection in Chile was, well, slim for me (butter is actually one of three major food groups in Chile, along with bread and instant coffee), I only had to manage that for a month, instead of four, and I got a hugely valuable experience out of it.

Now, what’s the lesson here? Am I saying that everyone should have the exact same study abroad experience that I did? Not really. There were plenty of ups and downs for me, and it doesn’t fit everybody: some people would do better in a different country; others would want to stay a longer or shorter time; and some might want to go abroad on their own time, rather than in study abroad. And hey, that’s okay!

So, you’re looking ahead and planning your time at GW, don’t feel like you need to do anything just because it’s “what everyone does.” Deep down, you know the things that are best for you—so have faith in yourself to do what you want to do.