What Study Abroad In Iceland Taught Me About Myself


I know that not everyone has the opportunity to study abroad.  Costs are certainly prohibitive and, without the organized and emphatic support that I received at home and at school, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.  So many people don’t need to be convinced to study abroad. They already want to, but can’t.  To those people, I sincerely hope that you get the opportunity to travel abroad someday, whether you’re in school, traveling scantily on your savings, or taking some luxurious trip you’ve waited for your whole life.  No matter the destination or the reason for traveling, there is so much to be learned: about organizing a trip, about another culture, and about yourself.  I’d like to use this article to talk about the latter.

The most gratifying moment of my study abroad experience happened around week 2 or 3 as I walked alone around Ísafjörður, just for something to do.  I realized all at once what my five hour plane ride to Iceland should’ve made obvious immediately—maybe I was too exhausted to realize until this moment that I was far away from home and, more importantly, that I’d gotten myself that far.  No family came with me.  I got on a plane by myself to meet 22 strangers in a foreign country after 20 years of never leaving Pennsylvania for more than a week.  I raised all the funds myself.  I didn’t just spend 2 months abroad, I convinced enough people to invest in me to make an otherwise nearly unattainable dream happen.

Without the scholarships, I could have taken out more loans, and relied more heavily on my parents because I am lucky to have that financial privilege and great support at home. That might have been enough to get me on this trip. Regardless, without the scholarships, I wouldn’t have even asked for this experience.

But I did get the scholarships and I did travel nearly 2800 miles and I did meet all these new people alone and I did take classes at a foreign university and I did spend 2 months in Iceland.

I did all that. Wandering around alone at 66° North, scratching my new short hair that I am still in love with, and wearing my college sweatshirt while staring out at the fjord in the brisk summer breeze, I thought: Damn, what can’t I do?


Kaitlyn Shirey (She/Her/Hers) is 20 years old, and currently studying Creative Writing and Mathematics at Chatham University.  She has previously been published in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review.