I scoured the contents of my overstuffed wallet and searched in vain for a quarter.
My idea – to buy a Coke at a convenience store on campus – had seemed simple enough, yet as I tried to ignore the prying eyes of the people waiting behind me, I felt my embarrassment grow. After a few more moments of awkwardly digging through old receipts and gift cards, my fingers found a large metal disc, and I triumphantly pulled out the coin and handed it to the lady with relief.
She stared at the money for a moment, and then looked up at me with a less-than-amused expression. "We don't take British money on campus," she said frostily.
Only a few weeks earlier, in what feels like another life, I had spent the second half of my summer semester studying abroad in England, at the University of Cambridge.
Throughout my freshman year of college, I'd always vaguely imagined myself studying abroad in some global location for part of my college career, but I frankly hadn't made any concrete plans. One afternoon, several friends dragged me along to an information session about a summer program; I listened passively to details about the trip. Maybe someday in the distant future; until then, my impending Spanish exam was the extent of my international exposure.
In early July, I ironically found myself sitting on a train bound for Cambridge for a study abroad in the United Kingdom.
Many students at the University of Tennessee seem to like the idea of spending time abroad, yet get somehow stuck between the idea and reality.
At the University of Tennessee, a terribly small 4-5 percent of students decide to study abroad. For contrast, the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina send out roughly 26 percent of their students to foreign countries.
Some private schools, such as Pepperdine University and the University of Notre Dame, send as many as 60-80 percent of their students to foreign countries.
For most of us, college is the stepping stone to a world of adulthood and work. Many, if not all, of us will go on to professional careers across the U.S.; many will raise families. But unless one's job allows for global relations or intensive international travel, the opportunity to live or travel to foreign countries simply vanishes. A boss or 3-year old child will not understand one's sudden desire to climb the Himalayas or carouse the streets of Paris. Studying abroad offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for pre-professional young adults to explore the corners of the globe.
I'm a huge proponent of the wonderful campus we call home here on Rocky Top – the experience of living in our university's vibrant community has been one of the most rewarding aspects of college. Many would agree that Tennessee's campus environment has an invigorating variety of organizations and activities to offer. Many students who attend our university come from cities around our state, and most of us consider America our homeland.
However, if our campus is a drop of water, then the world is the ocean. In England, I was exposed to a different world of people. My understanding of everyday life was completely and utterly redefined. During my time at Cambridge, I realized that coffee and chocolate in Europe really is much better; I quickly understood that oversized T-shirts were not a part of British fashion taste. I discovered that "fried toast" is a common breakfast food. Little by little, the streets of Cambridge became cozily familiar. I gradually adjusted to the shorter doorframes, and after a few missteps, I gradually accepted that the British truly drive on the left side of the road.
Studying abroad is not being pushed solely to make Tennessee look more elite, or to amplify our Top 25 goal. Although these things are important, the personal growth and change that comes from studying abroad cannot be underestimated. I learned arguably more in a short span of weeks abroad than I learned in months in America.
I made incredible friends during those weeks, and got the ability to study under a brilliant professor and graduate student – opportunities that I would not give up or alter for anything.
Do not miss this opportunity, because it will likely not come again. Leave Knoxville, and don't look back.
But take plenty of pictures, and see you next semester.
Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.