Welcome to BeyondAmerican!
I am a US American college student. This next year I would be a sophomore at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. Like many advantaged US Americans, I always assumed that I would go directly from high school to college to internship to job right here in the great US of A. About every US American I know who has gone to college at all has done just that – while a few have also gone to study abroad for a semester or a year while they were in undergrad.
This is part of the great narrative, which has been fed to me from birth, and constantly reinforced by my watching it play out again and again in the lives of those around me.
Although I have dreamed of making my own way in a truly different context, and being a genuine participant in the greater international field of the world, I held on firmly to the belief that it could only happen sometime after I had my degree and money and a life.
My acceptance of this narrative was first shaken when an experienced, worldly friend persuaded me into considering the possibility of doing an international gap year program. I got into a college that offered a good financial package which allowed me to defer, and two years ago I embarked on Thinking Beyond Borders’ Global Gap Year program. My experience allowed me to take a step back and re-evaluate my own assumptions and worldview, and to view my life and work in a larger social context. It was the first time I had the space and support to seriously reflect on the stories which make up my own life and identity. It was the first time that I really thought about what it means to be White, economically privileged, US American, and a woman – among many other things. It allowed me to connect deeply to my agency and vocation, and showed me that it is possible for me to redefine the way I can be in this world – to rewrite the narrative of my life.
During my year of being restless and dissatisfied in my small liberal arts college, re-submerged in the waterway of the US system, I met several individuals from other places who taught me much. They showed me that there is more out there – that there is, in fact, a world of possibility that becomes visible once you bring your head up out of the water and open your eyes.
About a month ago I decided that I would take the leap. My goal is to move home, work and find and internship or some other type of meaningful social involvement for a year. Then, I would like to enroll in a university in Spain or Germany and move there.
When I looked up the process of US students enrolling in European undergraduate schools I found very little. I found some estimates that about 13,000 US students do this every year. What little information I could find specifically for US Americans was almost entirely centered on study in the UK – which also happens to be one of the most expensive European countries for non-EU students to study in. Spanish university websites are for the most part very clearly not catered to US students, and while there is information about the general process of admissions I am left with far more questions than answers. Learning about this admissions process can feel at times like I am hacking at a mile-high impenetrable wall.
Of course very few US Americans do this! It is incredibly intimidating, and there are very few voices telling their own stories and experiences to make it all feel human and tangible. I am writing this blog to document my process of navigating this confusing, uncertain terrain. Whatever happens, whether I fail or succeed, I hope my story can humanize the reality that there are more possibilities out there, and provide a jumping off point for others to feel like they can be intentional about walking their own paths as well.