Off-Campus Study: Caroline Findlay
Since my junior year of high school, I knew who my best friends in college were going to be: my lacrosse teammates. Despite entering my freshman year of college in the midst of a global pandemic, I found myself feeling lucky that I had 33 women on campus as a strong support system. It meant that even in a very isolating time, not once did I feel alone. Fast forward to sophomore year, conversations in DHall centered on where everyone would go to study abroad. Despite having a close bond with my teammates, it was clear to me that this incredible opportunity - one that I had dreamed about doing since I was in middle school - was something I wanted to experience on my own.
It wasn't until I entered my small dorm at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland during the early autumn days of my junior year, I began to realize how completely on my own I truly was. There I was, across the pond, so far removed from the safe support system I had leaned on thus far; I was overwhelmed with fear that I had made a mistake...that I couldn't do this by myself. But every moment after that first night, I was reminded again and again about how just taking the first step and getting outside of your comfort zone creates space for magic and self-growth. And for me, a lot of growth came from making mistakes.
For my first trip out of Scotland, I headed to Munich to meet up with some friends from F&M. The excitement I felt for this adventure could not totally quiet my nervous anticipation - traveling to my destination was entirely up to me and I was completely on my own. Despite any pre-travel preparation I did during the days leading up to the trip, nothing could have readied me for the number of mistakes I would make in just 24 short hours. It felt like a miracle that I made it to Munich. I realized as I got to the airport that I forgot my debit card, despite being sure I had it. This left me 60 USD and 5 British pounds to use for a full weekend at a cash-only event in a foreign country. Later I noticed that the zipper on the dress I brought had fallen off, making it unwearable. My flight was delayed in Edinburgh and, once I finally made it to the Frankfurt airport, I had to sprint to make my connecting flight to Munich; I booked my flights too close together without realizing how long customs could take. I finally made it to my destination after spending an hour asking for directions on the German subway system. In hindsight, I probably should have researched directions earlier or just taken a cab. All I could think was stupid, stupid, stupid! How didn't you know ANY of this?
In the moment, it seemed like chaos, but now when I look back on this experience, I laugh. Collectively speaking, this trip ended up being one of my favorite memories from my time abroad. The lessons learned from my travel failures, although chaotic and pretty embarrassing, made me that much more confident the next time around - maybe, I don't know, make sure I have my debit card before traveling to another country? Resilience and self-reliance are born out of learning from your mistakes. And for me, the more time I spent by myself, I spent getting to know myself. There will be times you won't know something. In fact, the more you learn the more you'll realize you don't know. You will mess up and that's okay - those lessons and reflections will make you better the next time you try. My experience tested me in many ways, but the times I struggled and pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone were some of my best memories. I walked away with incredible new friends, lessons learned, and more perspective. Don't let fear decide your fate and take that first step forward.
Caroline Findlay '24
Location: St. Andrews, Scotland
Term Abroad: Fall 2022
Brooks College House
Campus Affiliations: Women's Lacrosse
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