by Layth Mattar | University of St. Andrews, Spring 2020
As my graduation date has inched closer and closer throughout my final year as an Emory undergraduate, it has caused me to look back and reflect on special moments from the last four years. These are moments that I love and hate. Moments that I am sure I will be thinking about again in my future. Moments that I know have affected me consciously and subconsciously have left a significant mark on who I am today. An interesting facet I have noticed when I recall these moments is that so many of them took place during my time studying abroad, and this has made me realize the lifelong impact those experiences will have on me.
My first study abroad experience in Morocco changed a key characteristic of my personality, creating a curious and adventurous individual where a reserved and comfortable one previously existed. There is a specific memory I have in Morocco, where my friends and I were walking the streets of the blue city of Chefchauoen, and there was a street food peddler with a crowded cart. Upon further examination we realized he was peddling a sort of snail soup where the snails, still in their shells, were cooked in a delicious, spiced broth. Now, Layth from a couple months earlier would not have partook. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved street food, but snails? From some dude’s cart? I would have never, but Morocco changed that for me. It really instilled within me the virtue of adventuring, exploring, and curiosity. The willingness to come out of one’s comfort zone is created when someone is rewarded for coming out of their comfort zone. Without fail, the people and culture of Morocco rewarded me each time I explored.
My second study abroad experience in Scotland cemented the experiences I had in Morocco, but it also taught me the valuable life lesson of global perspective. What I mean when I say this is that the international news that reaches the masses of America has been so condensed and filtered into these one-page articles or five-minute news segments, and this makes it easy to forget how impactful these events are in their places of origin. In the specific case of Scotland, I did not realize just how infuriating and anxiety-inducing Brexit had been. My conversations with Scots in St. Andrews taught me so much about the political landscape of the UK, and the long and tangled history of the region. Brexit represented all the major faults that Scotland suffers in the current and historical political system. This experience taught me just how grey the world is. The idea that situations and circumstances which I am not directly affected by can be summated into a single article, a single conversation, or a single news cycle, no longer exists for me.
While it is cliché to say that study abroad changes who you are, it is important to realize that these cliches exist for a reason. I can attest to that fact because I was not the same person returning from a study abroad experience. I can gratefully reflect on the changes of character and the impact that those experiences had on me.