machu picchu overlook
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Colleen at the top of Mt. Machu Picchu

When I first told my parents that I wanted to complete back-to-back study abroad programs in two very different countries (China and Peru) the summer and fall following my first year at Dartmouth, I was met with mixed emotions. My parents were excited that I was interested in pursuing international experiences during my time in college, but weren't so thrilled about the timing (or rapid succession) of the programs I'd proposed.

So, as a compromise, I said that I would go talk to my Undergraduate Dean to get her take on the topic -- clearly, she'd side with me on this one, right?!  As I sat down to speak with my Dean and told her my potential plans, however, she was much less enthused than I'd hoped. Instead, she warned me about the stress that can come from completing five continuous "on" terms in a row, the difficulty I may find in being away from Dartmouth and home for such a long period of time, and the challenges associated with completing one study abroad in Chinese followed by a second in Spanish. She advised that I choose one program or the other and allow myself enough time to settle into sophomore year before jetting off again to some other part of the world.

I will admit that her hesitations were logical and based on her experiences working with other Dartmouth students, but I had my heart set on studying abroad in both China and Peru, and I did not want to forgo one of these potentially formative experiences due to fear. So, despite the best advice of my Dean (and after finally convincing my parents that this was what was right for me), I signed up for both study abroad programs and crossed my fingers that I had made the right decision.

In all honestly, studying abroad twice in a row was difficult. It was challenging to have to switch from speaking Chinese every day to only speaking Spanish, and I did feel a bit homesick and, at times, sad about the fun things happening on campus that I was missing. But, with that said, I also learned what it's like to be immersed in a new city and culture. I grew more comfortable speaking both Chinese and Spanish, and I made friends in China and Peru that I still keep in touch with.

So, yes, completing back-to-back study abroad programs in China and Peru was challenging, but it was also one of the best decisions I've made since coming to Dartmouth. These study abroad experiences helped me realize my passion for international social entrepreneurship and solidified my interest in living abroad after college. They forced me to go way out of my comfort zone and increased both my confidence and sense of independence in making decisions that are right for me rather than letting fear dominate and deter me from incredible experiences.

If you're interested in learning more about my experiences abroad, check out my "How I Went Abroad 4 Times in Two Years" blog linked here!