Discover your true self

Our Youth Goodwill Ambassador Alex Berger talks on why people should study abroad and simultaneously shares his own study abroad story from Denmark.

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How and why did you choose where to go?

My story is fairly complex. As a kid, my parents homeschooled my brother and I in place of 5th and 7th grade. 5th grade was spent backpacking Europe. 7th grade was spent in a 32-foot 5th-wheel trailer as we took a year and drove across the United States. I did my first study abroad the summer of my Freshman year of College. I was incredibly nervous despite the childhood trips. It was a 6.5 week Honors study abroad program in the British Isles. I debated doing a full semester or year and really wanted to, but could never work up the nerve. The summer program ended up being a great experience. Despite loving it and really flexing my travel muscle, I still never quite worked up the courage over the remaining 3 years of my BA to do a full semester or year abroad.

When I graduated, I turned around and tossed caution to the wind. After 4 years of being worried about doing a solo semester abroad, I closed my eyes and jumped into a 3 month solo trip through Europe. I figured it was now or never. It was amazing. I returned to a full-time job in Mergers and Acquisitions, where I managed two 16-21 day trips a year for the next 3 years. Then, tired of Arizona and eager to return for a Master's, I applied to a number of schools selected based purely on reputation, the appeal of their location, and if they had a communication program. My methodology? A list of the top 50 Universities in the world and an afternoon of research. I ended up with 8 Universities split between 4 PhD programs (trying to skip the MA) and 4 MA programs. Of these, 3 were in Europe. All of the PhDs rejected me and the MA decision came down to Georgetown in D.C. or the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Georgetown wanted $30k in tuition a year. University of Copenhagen offered me a complete tuition waiver...as well as a 2 year visa to live in and explore Europe. The opportunity to do what I hadn't had the nerve to do previously was too enticing to resist (and that tuition waiver helped).

Despite having only spent 2 days in Denmark during a trip the year before, I relocated figuring I'd see what happened and give it a go. It was one of the best and most pivotal decisions of my life.

What was your experience like? What is your favourite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

It was incredible. I had a lot of international friends, international roommates, and had traveled extensively. So, I thought I knew what the experience was like. I had no clue. There were moments that were profoundly humbling and difficult, but the vast majority were exciting, social, engaging, and they fostered in me an internalised self-confidence that is impossible to get elsewhere. It was 26 months before I returned home for the first time (family met up abroad during that period). When I met with one of my mentors, one of his comments resonated with me. He said I seemed more at ease with myself. At first, I was slightly put off - but then I realised he was spot on. It was a powerful and wonderful process that was a lot of fun. There were setbacks - like accidentally buying 2 kilos of beets, thinking they were sweet potatoes - but in the end I've fallen head over heels in love with Denmark, learned an enormous amount about myself, about my own country, and am a much richer person.

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

For this interview, I'm focusing mostly on my 2 year full degree done abroad, but both programs were fundamental in shaping my passions, my career, who I am, and the footprints I leave on the world. When I reflect on what these two experiences did for me...it is impossible to express my gratitude for the opportunity and my absolute relief that I eventually managed to work up the nerve to actually go for it. The richness, friends, perspective, and success both have brought is truly staggering.

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

I don't feel it, but I know I am. I had developed social confidence before leaving...but those two years truly helped me internalise that confidence. It is no small task to really start to believe in yourself and to know that regardless of what comes your way, you can handle it. I also understand the world and the people within it much better. This goes beyond just better understanding what it means to be American. I now have a much better understanding of fundamental differences in life experience, in world view, and ideology. I felt like a very well rounded and capable person before...but after this trip? I realise just how much more I still have to learn and how gaping the gaps were in my experiences and perspective. I've also developed whole sets of new skills - from making friends to behaviours for communicating - which are incredibly valuable.

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

For this interview, I'm focusing mostly on my 2 year full degree done abroad, but both programs were fundamental in shaping my passions, my career, who I am, and the footprints I leave on the world. When I reflect on what these two experiences did for me...it is impossible to express my gratitude for the opportunity and my absolute relief that I eventually managed to work up the nerve to actually go for it. The richness, friends, perspective, and success both have brought is truly staggering.

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

Talk to people and ask questions. It is ok to be afraid. It is ok to be unsure. It is ok to not know where to start. There ARE scholarships, grants, and lifestyle changes out there that can make it all possible for almost anyone. I was blessed with decent grades, involved parents, and family financial support - this helped offset some of the costs. Still, perseverance and being smart and strategic about my approach has enabled me to do things that most, even with significantly more resources on hand, often think is impossible. A lot of study abroad programs are super expensive. Want to go abroad? Look at doing it yourself or doing a self-guided program. Other options include doing what I did and going for the full degree, where things like tuition waivers are more readily available.

Also, don't self sabotage. This is the #1 obstacle you will have to overcome. It isn't language, it isn't money, it isn't cultural barriers. It is you - not doing your research, "accidentally" missing deadlines, not asking the right questions or not reaching out to people.

Still terrified? I've told you my story - so believe me when I say so was I. This, even though I've now done 40+ countries and relocated for a 2 year Master's in a foreign country. If you can dream it, you can do it. All those excuses that come to mind? They're B.S. - sweep them aside and just take the plunge.

Read the original article at #StudyAbroadBecause here.