Why I’m Not Studying Abroad

The following situation occurred numerous times throughout Spring Quarter:

Friend/classmate/peer: Hey, weren’t you supposed to go to Spain or something? I feel like I remember you saying you were going abroad in the Spring.

My mind: Shit. ….. well, this is awkward. Did I tell them personally or did they just see it on Facebook or whatever? Asl;ksjf;sldkfj I can’t believe I have to endure explaining this again, but here we go.

Me: Oh! Uh, yeahhh that didn’t end up… working out.

Friend/classmate/peer: Oh my gosh nooOOoooOOOOooo, what happeneeeddd?!!!??

And then I would go on to explain the entire ordeal, all the while trying to hold back frustrated tears and the devastation in my voice. Honestly, I couldn’t decide if these interactions made me feel more sad, mad, or just plain uncomfortable.

Sad because one of the experiences I’d dreamt of for years was ripped out from under me like a magician doing the tablecloth trick.

Mad because I had gone through so many obstacles and worked hard and I had felt I deserved the trip and that it was wrongfully taken from me,

Uncomfortable because while this one person was actually asking me about it, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other people were curious what the hell had happened and just came up with their own answers and reasons for me.

My mindWould they assume grades prevented me from going? If so, does that mean people generally think I’m dumb? I wonder if anyone just flat out thinks I lied. I know people often think I want attention and there are definitely people out there who judge me enough to believe that. After all, people believe what they want to believe. I wonder if they think it was money problems? Or if I did something bad to be dropped from the program or something?

And it would go on and on and on… my thoughts were incessant.

See, I don’t usually care what people think about me. But something about this whole situation left me feeling wide open for the whole world to see.

And perhaps this was narcissistic of me, to assume that everyone knew my plans and wanted to know why they had changed, but we all tend to be self-involved at times. And I can freely admit that at this time, being a freshly legal 21-year-old who was taking on new freedoms while being personally offended that her dream had died, I was very self-involved.

I knew that if I had seen someone post such exciting news on Facebook and then I never saw them post pictures from their adventures abroad or even say anything about it, I would wonder what happened.

I assumed people would wonder. And I got asked about it enough times for that assumption to be confirmed. I’m sure some people could give less of a shit, but I felt so vulnerable at the time that it felt like everyone knew.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 9.12.26 PM

My Facebook post announcing the news

A good number of months have passed since my plans changed and I am no longer bitter about the situation, although I do get sad from time to time, especially when I see Snapchats and Instagrams from the dozens of people I know who are currently frolicking throughout Europe and Asia.

I’ve never been one to get jealous or disappointed in my own life while observing others’ lives via social media, but this has become my one exception. I am happy for these people, but I also yearn for their experiences, the way that they’re having them.

I will have my own adventure.

It just won’t be the same as theirs.

You want to know what happened? I’ll tell you. You don’t care? Too bad, I’m writing about it anyways. Because I have found many silver linings and I want to share them.

Let’s take it back to Fall Quarter of my sophomore year.

I had been working out plans with my parents to study abroad over the Summer. I had always wanted to go to Spain and had done a ton of research on the cities that I could choose from.

The plan was San Sebastián.

A beautiful, beautiful beach town up near the border of France. It was perfect.

Photo from: melia.com

Photo from: melia.com

I was talking to advisors at Cal Poly, researching the town further, and getting ready to jump into the application process.


A tweet from my sophomore year

I do not remember exactly when my parents approached me about canceling my Summer abroad, but it was around Winter Break and it was hard to accept.

However, they told me they wanted me to have this experience. They told me they really wanted me to study abroad because we are lucky enough for me to have the opportunity to and should take advantage of it. It would just have to be at a later date because they could not include paying the tuition over the Summer into our budget at the time.

I got over it relatively quickly and in Spring and into the following Summer (the one before junior year) I tried to start planning Study Abroad Attempt #2.

Being the stubborn woman I am, I did not want to go abroad in the Spring. Everyone knows Spring Quarter at Cal Poly is an absolute BLAST. I was determined to have my cake and eat it it, too.

I looked into Fall programs, but those are all “semester programs” that begin over the Summer and go through Poly’s Fall Quarter. It was too late to apply for any of them. They all started in August. Deadlines had passed.

Disappointed, but determined, I began looking into Winter Quarter. I found programs for Australia and Rome. I wasn’t particularly interested in Australia because I wanted to be in Europe, so Rome sounded awesome. I told my parents about the idea and they were on board!

As it turned out, there was no program that both matched up with Cal Poly’s Quarter System schedule and offered the classes that I needed…

I had been saving specific GE’s, ones that are commonly offered in study abroad programs, for the sole reason of taking them while abroad, yet nothing was working out.

Defeated once more, I held off on my study abroad dreams until Fall Quarter of junior year.

I decided to suck it up. I had been so stubborn about not wanting to leave Cal Poly during my Spring Quarter of junior year, but I realized I was blessed enough to even have the CHANCE to get to study abroad. I was being so ridiculously picky about how I would go and when and where… and I was not being grateful for the opportunity in itself.

I started researching Spring programs. And what I found was too good to be true (literally, but we’ll get to that later.)

Seville, Spain. It was a QUARTER PROGRAM, which had previously been extremely difficult to find. It offered Economics and Art classes that would fulfill my GE requirements. It was perfect. It matched my school’s academic schedule, would provide me with actual credits, and, best of all, it was in Spain!


Photo from: blogs.cornell.edu

I scheduled meetings with advisors. I filled out the application. I did the transcript sending. I did it all.

I was very optimistic I would get in.

And I did! When I got the acceptance email over break I could not contain myself. It didn’t even feel real. It was finally happening.

I filled out the course preference list, I took the Spanish placement test, and my parents paid the initial deposit and fees. At Christmas I received gifts for my travels– books on where to go in Spain, travel toiletry bags, etc. Everything was amazing.

Enter 2015.

I’m fresh off of a great Fall Quarter at Poly, a wonderful break, and I’m ready to turn 21 (on January 21st), and then speed through the quarter and get to Spain already. I could hear it calling me. And I felt I couldn’t answer until I was on the plane… on the way there.

I’m a couple weeks into the quarter and life is good. It’s January 18th and my best friend, Maya, is visiting SLO for the three-day weekend and my birthday. Her and I and my other close friend, Bryan, are in downtown SLO shopping for decorations for my party and then decide to grab lunch.

I’m sitting in a booth with them at Urbane Cafe and that’s when I get a call from my CEA advisor.

I don’t think anything of it.

She would call all the time to check in on me, ask questions, remind me about forms due, and clarify things about the program, etc. Getting a call from her was not unusual.

Unfortunately, this call was different. I stepped outside to make sure I could hear whatever she had to say and that’s when she broke the news….. my program was cancelled.

Just like that. Cancelled. Gone. Done. Poof.

I tried to keep my cool, but Jesus, guys, I just couldn’t. As I type this I’m just remembering the whole scene so clearly. She was explaining to me that there were other programs and other options and that I could do all these other things… but that was the problem, they were other things. And my heart was so, so set on this. 

She explained that not enough students had signed up for the program and that it did not make sense for them financially to follow through with it, which I understood. Businesses have to do what they have to do to STAY in business, but this affected me so personally.

I choked out that I understood, accepted her apology, and tried to tell her I’d talk to her in the near future about refunds and all that.

The second I hung up the phone I started crying. This isn’t a huge deal, as I cry very easily and kind of a lot, but this was a type of crying I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time. I was shaking, barely breathing. I felt like I was hyperventilating. It felt similar to a panic attack, but with more heartache. If Seville was a person, they had just been stabbed to death in front of me.

I know this sounds dramatic, but this was how I felt at the time. I am not embarrassed by my reaction because I know how much this experience truly meant to me. And two days before my birthday it was just… gone.

I called my mom and managed to explain, but that phone call only lasted a minute or two because I couldn’t form my sentences without loudly sobbing into the phone. I went back to my booth and Bryan and Maya had the most confused, concerned looks on their faces. They comforted me they best they could and helped distract me for the remainder of the day.

My birthday came and passed and, yes, it was perfect, but when all the hubbub died down I remembered the new reality I had to accept and I was sick about it.

I searched for other programs and the deadlines had passed. My parents, bless them, felt so badly for me that they put the option of studying abroad over the Summer back on the table.

Sadly, all programs were either UC-only or didn’t offer the classes I needed and would force me to not graduate on time or started too early or there was some problem that prevented it from working out. And I was 100% sure that I wanted to spend all of my Senior Year AT my wonderful university. My options were zero.

I was so pissed it is almost funny in hindsight.

People who didn’t know about the change would start talking to me about how much fun I was going to have studying abroad and I would have to cut them off and explain. Conversations like the one I recounted at the beginning of this post started happening more frequently. And it seemed like everyone and their mother was getting accepted into programs for the Summer and Fall.

I tried to be happy for everyone, but it still stung.

Worst of all, thanks to Google’s ability to remember what you’ve searched and tailor the advertisements and posts you see to that, I was flooded with STUDY ABROAD THIS and STUDY ABROAD THAT. I was still on the CEA emailing list. Cal Poly was promoting their programs.

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But over time, I realized that moping about it would change absolutely nothing. I chose to change my attitude. I allowed myself to be sad sometimes, but I did let myself dwell on it for long. There were silver linings out there, I just had to find them.

And I did.

If I had been abroad Spring Quarter:

– I would have never ran for ASI Student Government and gotten elected onto the Board of Directors

– I would have never met one of my current mentors and role models

– I would not have gotten to go to Coachella

– I wouldn’t have been able to be in San Diego for my best friend’s 21st birthday

– I wouldn’t have developed stronger friendships with many people that I now consider good friends

– I wouldn’t have been able to attend Gamma Phi’s Daisy Project philanthropy or Sexual Assault Prevention Week at Poly

– I would’ve missed out on so many fun nights downtown, the Italian Wedding and 80’s Prom exchanges, and tons of events during the day

– I would not have explored spoken word at Cal Poly’s open mic nights (ATOG) and grown as a poet and person

The list could go on and on.

I had an amazing Spring Quarter of my Junior Year (ironically, what I had wanted to ensure from the start) and I can now see the ways I benefited from something that at one time felt like the end of the world.

I am proud to say that I learned from this experience, still reflect on it often, and have come out on the side that is stronger, happier, and more understanding of the fact that life will not always give me what I want.

Shit happens.

I guess… it’s what you do with that shit that matters?

Either way, I am extremely excited for what’s to come. I’ve already told many people about my plan for this Summer, but for those who don’t know, I’m getting my abroad experience after all. It’s just a tad different, but I’ve come to see it as better for me, and I have my incredible parents to thank.

My parents, brother, and I are departing from the U.S. in mid-August and going to Spain (mainly Barcelona) for a week and Greece for a week (where my parents will renew their vows.) Then my parents will fly home and my brother and I will take on six days traversing Italy. Then he will leave and I will be on my own while exploring France and England for ten days (but I will possibly be meeting up with friends along the way.)

I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity and because of all that’s happened, I have a much greater sense of appreciation for it. In hindsight, it all makes sense, even if it was rough getting here.

I will be gone for an entire month, exploring a side of the globe I have NEVER been to before, and I won’t have to study a bit while I’m there! I am blessed, there is no doubting that.

Every awkward conversation was worth it.


1 thought on “Why I’m Not Studying Abroad

  1. Mallory,
    I just found your blog and have been reading your posts for the past hour or so. I go to Poly too but it is my first quarter here, third year college student though. Something about this post really resonated with me. Coming to Poly I had this image in my head of what it was going to be like and long story short its nothing like what I imagined it to be. Reading your post has shown me that life isn’t perfect for everyone and I am not alone in being disappointed when my hopes have been let down. Thank you for this.
    Keep writing,

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