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Coming to Harvard I never intended to study abroad. Never having spent time abroad, it wasn’t even something that occurred to me. However, after a tough first year and a rocky start to sophomore fall, I felt that I needed time to figure out myself. I felt overwhelmed and was afraid that I was getting lost in the swift current that was Harvard. So, I remembered a study abroad bookmark I picked up somewhere and marched on over to my Russian professor’s office.
After being accepted, I was so excited and pleased I would be able to go abroad for the first time. At that point, all I was thinking about was how fortunate I was for this amazing opportunity and the relief I felt knowing I could take a break from Harvard the following semester. However, in the following months I became closer with my blockmates and very social in my house. I started to doubt my decision to go abroad.
As first semester came to a close and my departure date neared, I felt a mix of sadness and excitement to be leaving. I was afraid of what, and who, I would miss but I knew I was about to embark on a journey that wasn’t available to me while I was at Harvard.With those feelings, I embarked on a journey to the cold and icy Saint Petersburg. I spent 5 months exploring the city, gazing upon the most beautiful architecture I had seen, walking by statues of all varieties and spending hours in palaces filled with exquisite art. I ate the best food of my life- it wasn’t necessarily Russian food, but I will always hold eclairs and macaroons to a very high standard.
I met amazing people who left a significant mark on my life- some of whom are still very much present in it. I became surrounded by Russian history through life stories from my teachers and stories of the blockade from my host family. I even laughed as my host mom joked about the American perception of Russia...no they do not have bears walking the streets. All in all, I fell in love with one of the most unexpected places on earth.
Now, as I sit here writing this, I’m trying to think of a time I ever regretted going abroad, but I can’t. Not for a moment did I ever wish I hadn’t made this decision. Of course I missed my friends and my housemates, but I never felt I was losing out on something while being gone. Even during the low points of my trip, I felt a sense of calmness and peacefulness I didn’t feel at Harvard. I might have started to feel happy at Harvard but I needed the distance to allow myself to slow down and reflect.
That being said, being abroad also made me appreciate Harvard so much more. During my first year at Harvard I felt so stressed and overwhelmed that I never appreciated where I was. I didn’t think about all the amazing courses I had access to or the incredible extracurriculars I could explore. But experiencing college abroad made me appreciate Harvard and want to take advantage of how much it had to offer.
My time abroad was more than an amazing experience, it was a catalyst for a much better Harvard experience. Through the new and challenging experiences of living in Russia, I grew as a person and as a student.