Reflections From Studying Abroad: Grace Communication Student Spends Semester in Budapest, Hungary
My name is Kyrsten Newlon and I am a third-year Communication and Journalism student at Grace College, but that’s not where I’m studying this semester. I have spent the last three and a half months in Budapest, Hungary, taking classes at Karoli Gaspar University. I’ve dreamed of studying abroad since I knew such a thing existed, and having the opportunity to immerse myself in a unique European culture made this an easy choice.
There are some experiences in our lives that we can never replicate, never repeat, and never forget. They become more than a person we meet or a conversation we have. They become the shoes that we wear into the rest of our lives, and the blood in our veins that renews deep-held, forgotten parts of us.
I didn’t know the half of this when I stood for my passport photo, or packed basic essentials into a suitcase, or even when I stepped onto my first plane, bound for Europe. All I felt was excitement and mounting fear, but living for a semester in Budapest, Hungary, entailed so much more than the thrill of travel. Adrenaline wears off, but what I have experienced in my time studying abroad, will stay imprinted on my life for years to come.
When I left the US, my eyes were set on three and a half months of beautiful architecture, sporadic travel, and unique cultural classroom experiences. But as the weeks went on and day-to-day life slowly set in, what I found was so much richer and deeper and so much more difficult than I had ever imagined.
Every part of my life changed when I moved: friendships, family relationships, my city, country, school, hobbies, who I was surrounded by, the culture, the language, the rhythm of daily life, me, and even my relationship with God. Everything I was familiar with disappeared. A lot of people don’t realize that you still have a daily life within all the excitement of moving abroad. You have to learn to function as a representative of God in an entirely new way in an entirely different world. It takes time, it takes mourning of old ways, it takes honesty and grit, and it takes some really tough, confusing days.
Living in Budapest is beautiful because it’s an intersection of culture – people from all over the world, from all different backgrounds, with all different native languages and unique ways of life in one city. Witnessing connections across cultures and being a part of something that is so much bigger than myself is equally exhilarating and humbling. Sometimes the pressure of your own expectation is a burden too heavy for anyone to bear. But in the end, it’s worth it to dig deep and settle in, investing time and pieces of yourself in the people you meet and the places you frequent.
While it can be tempting to drag yourself from scene to scene, marking your place at every tourist attraction and checking off the list, there is something valuable in planting roots – letting yourself sink into new places, revisiting favorite coffeehouses and museums and shops and libraries and parks and even villages. Amongst all the great new experiences and famous landmarks, the most potent memories I will walk away with are the ones where I let my guard down in a quiet corner of the city and built a home right where I was.
Studying abroad is not usually comfortable. It’s demanding and overwhelming and chock-full of opportunities to learn and to grow. Over these last few months, I have learned how to take a running, reckless jump off the cliffs of familiarity into the unknown. I have learned how to communicate despite language barriers and foster empathy in cold city crowds. I have learned to find my voice and use it boldly and softly, no matter how starkly different or ineloquent I feel it to be compared to the voices of everyone around me.
Despite the struggles, there have been countless moments of joy, excitement, and pure awe. I have had the privilege of traveling to France, Germany, and Switzerland, exploring beautiful places in Hungary, and genuinely enjoying each of my classes and the cross-cultural education I am offered here. Sometimes I get lost and sometimes homesickness sinks too deep for comfort, but each day is part of the adventure that continues long after I fly home.
I will always value the memories I’ve made studying abroad in Budapest. I’ll remember the picnic on the museum lawn with fellow-American students and the late-night city life and the early morning coffee runs. I’ll remember reading underneath historical monuments and recreating Pinterest photography from the top of the basilica. I’ll remember sitting in a room full of Americans, Hungarians, old and young, from all different backgrounds, reflecting on music and poetry over good food and warm hospitality. I’ll remember the bus crash that everyone around me took by stride and the yelling matches between strangers. I’ll remember the sunsets and riverside views and the contrast between being lost in the great expanse of the world before me and then suddenly finding a little nook from which I can view one glimpse of the city and let my spirit rest.
At the end of studying abroad, I will return with gratitude and open eyes. Even as my dreams turn out nothing like I imagined and my adventures take unpredictable, terrifying turns, I will rest in knowing how good my Father is to create a world in which we can learn and grow and travel. Whether you study abroad in a European country or move to a new school in Winona Lake, Indiana, or you’re just trying to take on the challenge of another routine day, explore what you’ve been given and open yourself up for wherever the road may lead.