Study Abroad Helped Me to Find My ‘Happy”

By Troy Stiles, ISA Marketing Communications Manager

“Somewhere along the line, we seem to have confused comfort with happiness.”

That’s one of my favorite quotes. It’s from an ultra-marathoner named Dean Karnazes, and it’s true, if you think about it.

As we begin elementary school and eventually high school we form friendships, loves, and personalities. As a teenager, our world consists of the Friday night football game, or the early morning band practice, or the knowledge bowl competition. And our lives become consumed by the box we create for ourselves; we get wrapped up in what we’re going and that becomes our world. We become comfortable and that’s a great feeling.  The sad part is, however, that many people stay in that comfort zone, thinking they found happiness. They stop challenging themselves.

For some, the adventure of college takes them out of their comfort zone and brings them happiness. College is an amazing time filled with meeting new people, building new friendships, learning new things, and discovering one’s self. College can be such a fun, challenging, ever-changing experience, that many people don’t realize that they’ve actually just become comfortable and they’ve lost sight of what truly makes them happy.

So I challenge you to think. Are you happy or are you comfortable? It could be a hard question to answer. Do you know what even makes you happy?

For me, I thought I was happy. I was in college, on the track team, getting a degree in marketing and visual communication. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, create TV commercials. But this thing happened. I had the opportunity to do an internship. This particular internship didn’t allow me to travel, but it opened my eyes to the possibility of what else I could be doing. The internship exposed me to other students from around the country, all of whom had done some pretty amazing things.

And this challenged me.

I was inspired to break out of my comfort zone.

College graduation was on the horizon at the end of my internship and so I decided that I’d take a trip. The decision was between backpacking through Europe for a while or South Africa, for various reasons. I made the decision to make the trip to South Africa with the thought that I’d have other opportunities to get to Europe.


I had never traveled abroad before and that first trip lasted two and a half weeks. During my adventure I was tired, I was scared, I was confused, I was uncomfortable (at times), but I was happy.

This new experience led into a career working with international events and I soon discovered my passion for international issues and was accepted into an International Business program for graduate school. One of the reasons I decided on the specific program I did, was because a study abroad experience was required!

It had only been a few years since I had finished my undergraduate degree, but my mindset had changed so much. If someone would’ve asked me about study abroad during my undergrad, I probably would’ve asked “What’s that?”

But now, because I chose to do something different, I realized that a study abroad experience would be valuable in terms of my degree, but also in terms of experiencing a new culture, learning new skills and gaining a better grasp of myself.

During my grad program, I ended up studying abroad twice, both instances were considered short courses of only several weeks, but those experiences were more valuable to me than a semester of sitting in a classroom. I was able to study in both Peru and Croatia and learned amazing skills, worked on enriching projects, and gained important intangible skills that only come from experiencing a new culture.


My study abroad experiences truly made me uncomfortable because of the challenge, both academically and culturally, and also helped me understand what true happiness feels like.

Those study abroad experiences taught me many things and have led to incredible opportunities that have taken me all over the world, to Sweden, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even Afghanistan and Iraq!

So get out there. Challenge yourself. Do something different. Amazing opportunities don’t come to those sitting on their couch. Study abroad helped me to realize what makes me happy. Maybe it can help you too.

Get more information about ISA’s Study Abroad Programs.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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