How Studying Abroad Will Turn You From a Diva to a Minimalist

Written by Sydney May 25, 2017

Pro Tip: Give up the outfit you KNOW you won't wear in your suitcase, for a little bit of school pride

Disappointed to report that the childhood rule of "If I lick it, it's mine" does not apply to the Louvre...

While morale was low after checking out of our Airbnb in Barcelona at 10am, our spirits were lifted after a much needed nap in the grass at Parc de la Ciutadella

Climbing the hundreds of steps of the Campanile for this awesome view of the Duomo and Florence was totally worth it!

Thank goodness I'll still get to see these smiley, CIMBA Hawkeyes on campus!

When I was first told that it wasn’t a good idea for me to bring more than one suitcase and my backpack abroad, I thought it would be impossible. But I nearly lost my mind when I realized that said suitcase could only be 50 pounds. However, after sifting, sorting, an all nighter, and a couple meltdowns, I finally was able to decide which belongings would make the cut for an entire semester abroad.

Flash forward 10 weeks: if you would have told me that I would have packed for 10 days, 4 cities, and 2 countries in a single backpack, I would have been positive you had me mistaken for someone else.

Studying abroad is all about living by the mantra that ‘less is more’, which can take some getting used to. In the beginning, I found myself packing twice as many outfits as I needed to so that I had ‘options’ for my 48 hour trip. However, after a few weeks of this, I realized that lugging around my wardrobe on my back while sightseeing was uncomfortable and unnecessary. (And I promise your friends won’t tell if you wear the same outfit twice.)

You’ll also come to this realization when you figure out how much more spending money you’ll have for souvenirs and attractions when you’re comfortable making the great leap from the hotels you’re used to staying at with your parents to the Airbnbs and hostels you’ll take on with your travel buddies. Not only are these an economically sound choice, but they’re almost always in an awesome location. Plus, if you’re doing your weekend trips right, you’ll be asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow…(or in our case, the grass of a park when our checkout time in Barcelona was 10am…yikes!)

Insisting on having your ‘wants’ less will start as a group effort in order to accommodate everyone in your travel group. It starts small with booking the less expensive hostel because your buddy is watching their budget, or waking up an hour early because you’re friends really want to venture to an attraction that’s totally out of the way, or walking back from the city together when someone doesn’t feel well. The first few times, you won’t want to, but you still will. But as time goes on, you’ll find yourself requiring less and less. You’ll pack less, you’ll need less breaks after walking for several miles, and you’ll be far less concerned where you eat or sleep. And becoming a little less high-maintenance and a little more selfless? I think we all could use that.

But being comfortable with the minimalistic lifestyle abroad officially happens when you are able to completely surrender to the fact that experiences will always, always, ALWAYS come before things. While it’s almost impossible to completely let go of possessions, letting go of many of your things (for the time being) while abroad is incredibly liberating. Furthermore, realizing that our things do not identify us, but that our experiences do instead is quite the epiphany. So while you may decide to bring three pairs of shoes to Athens, I can almost guarantee you won’t remember which ones you hiked to the top of the Acropolis in; just that you absolutely did it.

So, after twelve weeks, seven hostels and two Airbnbs, hundreds of miles trekked in my poor, obliterated Vans, and a now unpacked suitcase that somehow came back weighing less than when I left, I write this with a completely different mindset than I had before.

While I thought I would miss things like cellular data or my beloved Blackhawks jerseys, I assure you, they were still here waiting for me when I got back. But while my possessions haven’t changed, I absolutely have.

I am tenacious, curious, and fearless.

I am a problem solver, an adventurer, and a world traveler.

I am a Leadership Institute For Excellence graduate and thirteen credit hours smarter, hundreds of steps up the Campanile in Florence stronger, and dozens of the Louvre’s art exhibitions wiser.

I came with four acquaintances, and I left with 78 friends.

I came with Italian blood, and I left with Italian cultural understanding.

I came a proud American, and I left also a global citizen.

I came from the Hawkeye family, and I left part of a study abroad family.

These experiences are my bragging rights, my resume, my fondest memories, and in simplest terms: me.

CIMBA Spring 2017; signing off.