Why do you want to go abroad?

4 minute read

Imposter syndrome—a familiar sentiment that resonates with a slew of college students. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that your status as a college student is one that was attributed by mistake, or at the very least now brought into question because you are failing to live up to the standards expected prior to matriculation.

I’ll admit that never once did I question my admission to Brown. That isn’t to say that I was confident that my decision was a yes (I wasn’t), but rather that if Brown voted yes and I went, then I earned it and would internalize the affirmation as validation to my academic promise (I did). But the detriment of imposter syndrome is a nuanced plague that manifests from a multitude of causes. In my case, much of it resulted from my academic inadequacy.

My first two years were rough because despite my efforts—despite my vulnerability, my openness to adapt to accommodate my palpable weaknesses, and the time I devoted to rectifying my academic ineptitude—I still couldn’t catch up, subsequently exacerbating my ability to keep up. The most succinct way that I can encapsulate my experience is by using a swimming analogy.

Brown was seeking people who love to swim and had the best promise to be exceptional swimmers. They saw my genuine enthusiasm for swimming and wanted to enable my eagerness by providing me the resources and opportunity to be an extraordinary swimmer. However, in addition to myself, I joined world-class swimmers who (a) had swimming experience and (b) some of those that had to experience were trained by Olympic swimmers. So what Brown did was take me and these swimmers and then threw us in the middle of the ocean and said “Swim back to shore and we’ll give you your degree.”

Most of the students were ready to accept Brown’s challenge.

I wasn’t.

The problem was that I did not train for swimming in the ocean—especially without support. I was thrown in the middle of the water and tried my best to kick and swim but in the process ended up drowning more than moving forward. Meanwhile, I observe the Olympic-trained students are peddling fast underwater and moving full-speed ahead, getting closer to their degree.

In this comparison, the swimming is academic performance, the training is our background preparation, and the ocean is Brown. I’m trying my best to move forward and perform at a high caliber but I just cannot in comparison to the other students who went to high-grade schools and have relatively better ease to thrive.

So what do I do?

Should I just drown while the vast majority make it?

The truth is that I have no doubt that I am capable of generating exceptional results in my endeavors. However, just because my optimism highlights my confidence and faith in achieving my goals and making a difference, this doesn’t translate to having the right skill set to perform at the high standards I set for myself. I expected to win a game that I did not train for; I tried to pass an exam I did not study for; I jumped into something I was not ready for. So rather than giving up, I feel that the real answer is to get out of the water, acknowledge where my weakness lies, and be proactive in chasing that.

That is why I am here.

I came to Copenhagen for swimming lessons (to heal), but through that process uncover how other individuals who are also struggling in the water keep moving forward (how individuals recover in the midst of their adversity). Studying abroad is not a vacation. DIS is not an opportunity for me to tour the world and build a Facebook album or Instagram my time. If I was going to leave my institution—an institution that despite brutalizing me, provides a unique world-class experience—I was going to make sure that it was so that I can return a better, more resilient student. I aim at forging the kind of student I envisioned since deciding to venture into college. I was not going to fear the water—I was going to utilize this opportunity to train and get back in the water and catch up to the students. I was going to get my degree.

So the question is: Why do you want to go abroad?

Are you aiming to check off countries and boast to people “how cultured you are” for trying foreign food? Are you trying to impress future applications for graduate school/employers by stamping “Copenhagen” on your resume? If so, you won’t be very different from most students who choose to go abroad. DIS is no exception to this; I’ve certainly have met an overwhelming number of students who seem to love the fun time they are having—and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that.

But you’re wasting an opportunity for growth. You’re exploiting a country that can truly enhance your character by immersing yourself in the city, learning from their culture, and growing from the once-in-a-lifetime experience. My time in DIS has illuminated aspects of my character that I have grown to love but also surface my weaknesses in an environment that allows for me to while keeping my head forward. Being in Copenhagen has made me realize how much I love my Mexican identity. Interacting with the other students has continued to remind me of the importance of diversity and inclusion.

Right now I am in Stockholm, Sweden for Long Study Tour. I’ve had a tough few days because I’ve been sick (still am), and had an exam in every class (which I still took despite missing a week of class). This will be a week to continue exploring what I want to work for, to continue accomplishing the goals I set for myself during my time here. But this is also another week of training for the day I go back to catch up to the other swimmers and get the degree I deserve.


Leave a comment