How to turn study abroad regret into a positive

How to turn study abroad regret into a positive

For my college graduation, my uncle gave me a book of daily inspirational quotes. As I settled into the post-grad life of my dreams–job at a top PR firm, serious boyfriend, great network of friends, studio apartment all to myself–I read one chapter each night before bed.

St Kilda Beach Sunset, Melbourne, Australia

There was one chapter that I was never able to shake: it was about regrets. It basically said not to live with regrets, and if there was something you regretted, to do something about it. The example was about studying abroad: if you hadn’t studied abroad in college, do something about it now. Take a sabbatical. Learn another language. Take an extended vacation. Do anything other than bitch and moan about it.

I dog-eared the page, and tried to figure out ways to get over my biggest regret: not studying abroad in France. And then my college boyfriend and I broke up, I booked a ticket to Nice, and the rest is history. Right? Two years later, I still feel as if all I’m trying to do is make up for my past regrets.

Not taking a gap year: I’ve always been a year younger than my friends, the result of skipping eighth grade. I briefly considered taking a gap year between high school and college to live in France, after spending the summer after my junior year with family friends in Provence. My high school boyfriend, who had just finished his first year of university, convinced me that this wouldn’t be a good idea: that I would want to stay with the rest of my friends, that I didn’t want to feel more left behind than I already did because of my age.

Alpha Delta Pi, Eta Rho, Recruitment, Spring 2009

Not studying abroad: Looking back, the reason why I didn’t study abroad is almost laughable in its immaturity. I was accepted to my first choice program, a direct university exchange in Aix-en-Provence. But, as always, being the youngest of all my friends had me worried. I would have studied abroad when I was 19, to come back to the States when I was 20—and when all my friends were already 21. Sitting with another young friend in the sunshine–we later became flatmates for the year—I decided to defer acceptance, to not study abroad until I was 20 and all my friends were 21. And then I joined a sorority, got caught up in the movie-perfect sorority life—the opportunity to hold an executive board position and live in-house–and then I realized I had more than enough credits to graduate in four years. I ended up spending the whole year I was 20 at the bars with a fake ID anyway, and graduating before I turned 21. The worst part is that I had sworn I would study abroad, I had visited the study abroad office countless times, I had talked heaps of friends into going–and yet I couldn’t bring myself to follow through.

Bidwell Park, Chico, California, USA

Not taking advantage of where I lived: I still cringe when I think of all I haven’t done. I spent four years living in the beautiful small town of Chico, California–and I haven’t been to Bidwell Mansion, or hiked Upper Bidwell, or floated Honey Run, or done a beer tasting tray at Sierra Nevada. I spent my college years either in the library or hopelessly drunk: sunny days were meant to day drink or bike ride through the park, rainy days were meant for hungover movie sessions or shopping downtown.

Choosing boys over me: My biggest issue? Despite my cynicsm and single attitude, I get sucked into the fairy tale. When I fall, I fall hard. My then-relationships played heavily into my decisions to not pursue studying abroad, interning abroad, working abroad. Obviously, none of those relationships worked out–and while I value all of those experiences, I’m wishing I would have chosen differently.

I now feel like I’m making up for all my past regrets. I  used to flip through the study abroad booklet, dreaming of perfecting my French accent in the Cote d’Azur or of chatting up cute surfer boys on Bondi Beach. Now I try to recreate my own “study abroad” experience: living in Nice, working in Melbourne. I work my way through all the “touristy” things, worried that I’m going to miss out on something–stressed that I’m creating regrets, rather than soothing them.

I know I can’t go back in time and change things–but I’m not sure if trying to “fix” my regrets will ever ease them.

Do you have any regrets? Do you try to make up for them now? 


  • Caroline Eubanks

    That’s the biggest thing I heard from people when I asked what they wish they had told their 18 year old selves. Study abroad is something I also toyed with, but I spent every college break traveling anyways, so I didn’t think I was missing anything. While it would have been cool to immerse myself in a culture on someone else’s dime, I have plenty of time to do it now. Plus, I was head over heels in love with the city I was going to school in and couldn’t imagine leaving it. But I agree, I think these days I’m making up for lost travel time. 

  • I think it’s awesome that you were able to do the expat thing in both France and Australia, despite your initial hesitation about studying abroad. Studying abroad in Barcelona definitely shaped me in different ways, and helped shape my decision to take a gap year between college and law school. I told all of my friends that they need to all study abroad or get to Europe in some way, shape, or form ASAP if they haven’t already because it will really be so much harder to do it later in life. I think in terms of “regret’ sometimes I am not “in the moment” enough and thinking ahead to the next adventure, next weekend, next whatever. 

  • Well said. I’m 37 and in the process of trying to do all the things I wish I would have done sooner. Traveling is a big one. After my first trip to France last year, I decided I would have to do what I could to take an international trip every year. That won’t happen this year (my plans fell through) but I’m working on a trip to France in the spring. I’m hoping to take my 9-yr old niece and 16-yr old nephew because I think it’s really important to get out there and see the world. They probably wouldn’t have access to Europe without me (at least not until they were much older), so I’m happy to give them that exposure. And I hope it inspires them to get out there and try new things and do the things they want so they don’t have too many regrets later.

  • I didn’t study abroad but at the time didn’t even think about it. As soon as I graduated from college, a desire to see the world set in but it was too late to study abroad. It wasn’t too late to do something else, however. It took me years of 3-week trips abroad to make the big plunge (with lots of reasons and  excuses along the way), but living in Oz last year was my study abroad — my gap year. Now I’m home and trying to figure out how to leave again. Soak up all the goodness of Oz! 🙂

  • I regret not studying abroad too. Whenever I’m speaking to someone who knows me well and the subject of studying abroad comes up — I have to tell them no, I didn’t study abroad. Given my travel habits now, they are all blown away that I never studied abroad. I didn’t really figure out I wanted to until it was too late…but oh well, I think (hope) I’m making up for it now with my nomadic life.

  • If I had to select a regret, it would be not studying abroad. My reasons, the same as many of the ones you highlight. All foolish in retrospect I agree. But I might have done the same actions overseas as I did in college. Drink, socialize, etc… and perhaps not really appreciate where I was at all…

    Plus, in some ways those ‘college’ decisions made me who I am today. And perhaps those decisions led to the choices I made for my ‘RTW year, living and working in Mexico, and now life as a travel writer, photographer…. I am not changing. I guess the key is getting to your dreams. Glad, it seems you got to yours. 

    Stay adventurous, Craig

  • Anonymous

    What’s annoying is that I was the biggest proponent of studying abroad: I convinced countless friends to go, but never went myself! I still spent most winter breaks and one summer break in Paris, so I certainly didn’t miss out–and that was one reason why I didn’t stress too much when it came time to graduate and I didn’t study abroad. I keep trying to “make up” for not studying abroad–but I don’t think it’s possible. It’s just a different experience when you’re supporting yourself, making career decisions, etc. Either way, can’t complain too much–it led me to Australia now!

  • Anonymous

    I’m totally guilty of not living in the moment. I’m really good at living in the small moments–enjoying this bit of sunshine, this awesome meal–but I’m always planning for the next thing. It’s only August, and all of my thoughts are consumed with planning a trip in December–and what the heck I’ll be doing when my Australian visa expires in February! It’s a tough one.

  • Anonymous

    That’s an awesome thing for you to do! I was lucky enough to have a mother who fully supported travel to France–and even more so, a godmother who traveled all over the world for work and always sent me gifts and souvenirs! Definitely inspired me to want to see the world as well 🙂

  • Anonymous

    That’s the funny thing about life, though–you’d never be where you are now without all the unexpected twists and turns! Certainly grateful that I have the opportunity to live in beautiful Melbourne now, even if it took a bit to get here 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I suppose not studying abroad can spur you to travel more later in life! Certainly seems to be the case!

  • Anonymous

    Definitely think that all of our decisions lead us to where we are today–and if we had studied abroad, who knows where we would have ended up today?

  • Looks like you’re definitely making up for that lost experience now Christine by doing something even fewer people do! I studied abroad, but the program I was interested was only 5 weeks long (the height of the summer in Athens and the Greek Isles!). It was easily the most amazing 5 weeks of my life and sometimes I regret I didn’t choose a year-long or semester program, but like you, I’m trying to make up for it now by challenging myself in living abroad without the security of a study abroad program to dictate your every move. Congrats to you for carving out your own unique path!

  • If I had to choose a regret it would be going to college immediately following high school.  I didn’t it because it was suppose to be the thing (right thing) to do.  Everyone was doing it but to be honest I wasn’t ready there were other things I wanted and needed to do.  Not to mention I had no idea what I wanted to do in life.

  • Not living or studying abroad is also a regret that I have, and am aiming to do something about. Hoping to take a gap year or sabbatical in Italy at 40 – just a few short years away!

  • Mack Reynolds

    I think everyone’s got their own regrets that haunt them. I have relationship regrets, but that’s another story, haha. I do regret not eve having learned Spanish, considering I was born in Spain. Nor have I learned Tagalog, my mother’s native tongue. I’d very much like to do many things. I’m glad that I’m realizing this regret now, and have been taking steps to correct my regrets, or what have you.

  • This post kind of hit home for me. I really really wanted to study abroad in college and couldn’t due to a financial tug-of-war with my parents. After graduating I backpacked Europe for 3 months with the $ I saved working while my friends studied abroad. But I still feel that not studying abroad has made me more anxious to travel than I would’ve been otherwise. Hence our upcoming rtw trip. 🙂

  • I also regret not having studied abroad when I was doing my undergrad, but now I’m making up for it by doing my post-grad degree abroad 🙂

  • I also regret not studying abroad while in college. But at the time, I thought it was cool living in one place for four years. After all, I was a military brat growing up and had moved alot. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to study abroad — even with a family in tow.

  • Anonymous

    I did spend five weeks over a university summer studying at Alliance Francaise in Paris–but as always, I pieced together my own program at the last minute after quitting an au pair job in the French countryside! Just wish that I had done something completely different–like your Greek experience! Sounds like a dream summer 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I’m such a proponent of gap years now! I have quite a few British friends who had great experiences living in Australia or New Zealand for a year before going to uni–such a fabulous way to get some life experience and figure out a bit more what you want to do. I absolutely loved uni and knew what I wanted to study–but I hate the pressure we put on EVERYONE to go to school! It’s not for everyone!

  • Anonymous

    How fabulous! That would be such an amazing experience!

  • Anonymous

    Exactly! I think it’s all about trying to figure out a way to address our regrets, and if possible, find a way to make up for them. It’s never too late to learn a language 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I do feel like “studying abroad” on my own terms has made me appreciate it so much more. If I had studied abroad in college, I think I would have partied much more and not appreciated the culture nearly as much. Plus, paying for everything myself makes me value it that much more 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Another great way to make up for it 🙂

  • Anonymous

    That’s fair enough! I did absolutely love my university town–I just wish that I had take more advantage of the beautiful surroundings 🙂

  • Joya

    Hi Christine, I definitely believe everything happens for a reason so I think you had to experience the stereotypical college life so that you could now live in Nice and Australia and appreciate it more. Happy for you!

  • Anonymous

    That’s what my mom always says–and I like to think that my life is exactly where it needs to be right now! Don’t know if I would have appreciated my surroundings nearly as much if it had been all paid for and if I’d been with heaps of other study abroad kids: such a different experience!

  • Salut Christine!

    Je suis tombée sur ton blog et j’adore!!! 

    En lisant ce post, je me suis totalement retrouvée. Lors de ma dernière année d’université, j’étais censé finir mon BAC à Lille. Évidemment, j’ai eu un “empêchement”. D’ailleurs toujours un sujet sensible… 

    Looking back, I’ve lived in Barcelona and Roanne, I’ve traveled to Morrocco, Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Holland, and Mexico. I’ve just completed a road-trip across North America from Montreal, Canada to San Francisco and I’m now living in Napa. I feel that sometimes just classifying something as a “regret” will push us to accomplish more than what we were initially regretting.

    Props to you for taking charge of your life! And remember that everything happens for a reason! 🙂


  • Rebecca Several

    I try not to look at them as regrets, more like unfortunate choices at the wrong time. I don’t regret not technically studying abroad (did a semester at UMass/Amherst, which is about as different from CSUN as you can get!), but during my time in NZ and Australia I made some “unfortunate choices” that could be categorized as regret.

    I still got more out of my time overseas then I planned, so not really any regrets, just kind of sad about my decisions, if that makes any sense.

  • Anonymous

    That’s what I like to think: it would be impossible to get to where I am now (very happy with my life!) if I hadn’t made all the right decisions earlier–even if I thought they were wrong at the time. Sounds like you’ve had quite the adventures! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Fair enough–there are definitely decisions that I’m not overly stoked about–especially not ‘capitalizing’ more on certain things–but then again, there’s not much you can do! Have to just sort out a way to move forward and make the most out of things NOW 🙂

  • Anonymous

    “direct exchange program”…you must’ve attended CSU Chico! I went to Sonoma State University and participated in that program (Aix -en-Provence) my junior year. It remains one of the most memorable experiences of my life til this day. I have to add that you are very sheltered in those programs. Packing up all your stuff – without a plan – takes a lot more courage and I think you’ve more than made up for that regret. Here’s to small worlds 😉

  • Rajasthan Tours Operator

    a very nice saying great blog thanx

  • Anonymous

    I was accepted into the Aix-en-Provence direct exchange as well–what a small world! One of those things that probably would have been an amazing experience–but we’ll never know, so I’m glad I’ve still been able to create other wonderful experiences!

  • Rajasthan Tours

    looks like funy

  • Thanks for sharing! I had a  similar experience when I was accepted to teach abroad in France and my boyfriend at the time convinced me not to. However, I ended up breaking up with him and going the next year instead…it was perfect timing because I met my husband-to-be a few days after arriving to France 🙂 Things happen for a reason I suppose!

  • Anonymous

    Everything happens for a reason! So funny how things work out–glad that it worked out so splendidly for you 🙂

  • Katieweiher

    I’m bookmarking this post so I can read it daily!  I’m in my late 20s and didn’t study abroad in college or go far away for college for similar reasons as you.  I don’t regret either because I love the person I’ve become and where I am in my life, but I do have wistful thoughts.

    I now have the opportunity to move to another state, to a city that would allow me to have daily access to the activities I love and fulfill my dream of living elsewhere.  I’m so scared and nervous about it, but know that I have to do this.  It’s what I’ve always wanted and will turn into a regret if I don’t do it.   This post highlights this so well and is the reminder I need while I work towards this move!

  • camorose

    yes! Do it! I always think–what’s the worst that can happen? Usually, it’s just having to move back home–and honestly, that’s not anything horrible. Take a risk–you never know where it will lead 🙂

  • I think the one regret I did have was actually really similar to yours. When I started university I always wanted to do my second year abroad because the school had a great exchange program. But, of course, a boy came into the picture (Well … actually one boy for my first and second year, another boy for my third year) and it never happened.

    I like to think that I’m making up for that now, and that’s kind of how I see life. I don’t regret anything – I make the most of it. And if there’s something I feel like I wish I’d seen when i visit a place, I just think, ‘Meh. Oh well. I’ll see it next time I go there.’ 🙂 I think life isn’t about regrets. It’s all about focusing on the experience you’ve HAD.

  • camorose

    So true! Even if I didn’t study abroad, I still had an incredible college experience–and for that I’m super grateful.