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Dear Frosh: I am so glad I studied abroad

Jenna Johnson

Today's advice for college freshmen is from Elaina Houser, who graduated from American University in 2009 and now works as a business analyst for an international development company.

I wish I had known just how much studying abroad would change my life.

Elaina photo.jpgI wish I'd known many things my freshman year of college, like the fact that the kids who never missed a frat party often go on to have stellar careers or that budgeting would have helped with the stacks of bills awaiting my departure from school.

But the absolute best advice I could give is this: Study abroad. For a whole year, if possible.

The time and opportunity to do so may never come again. It's expensive, yes, but schools will often wrap it into tuition and school fees. I paid for my semester abroad with student loans. Adult life will likely prevent you from ever living abroad again, least of all in your youth when you have the ability to squeeze every drop of life out of the travel experience. At 20 or 21, the world beckons you to explore.

Experiencing a different culture (if you choose to truly immerse yourself) can open your eyes to a world you never knew existed, and make you see yours in a completely different light. I walked away with a humbling sensitivity to others, a willingness to try new experiences and an appreciation for diversity.

The world out there is just teeming with people, culture, history and life. One sees that the outside world is not something to fear, but rather appreciate, respect and value. Each culture and region has its own set of challenges and sins, quirks and mysteries. Get lost in them. Let them get inside you and take root. See that we are all connected.

What do you wish you had known as a freshman? E-mail me your short essay (less than 300 words) and it might be featured on the blog.

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  |  September 10, 2010; 10:52 AM ET
Categories:  College 101  | Tags: American, Dear Frosh  
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