#StudyAbroadBecause it kills prejudice, widens your horizons, and is a whole lot of fun!

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
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Jan 31, 2015 / 0 comments

The Travel Mama, Colleen Lanin, is the author of The Travel Mamas' Guide, a book on how to vacation with children...and stay sane! A travel journalist and writing instructor, Colleen founded the popular family travel blog, TravelMamas.com. Her stories have appeared in such publications as the "Today" show's travel section on NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune. She gives travel tips on television and radio, and as a public speaker. Colleen has an MBA with a background in marketing.


The Travel Mama, Colleen Lanin


What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go? 

I fell in love with France during my first visit to Europe with my family at age 15. In Paris, I announced to my parents that someday I would live and study in France. They seemed a little doubtful since I had always been a bit shy and I tended to be quite tentative about taking on anything new or scary.
Still, I signed up French 101 the next school year and then signed up to host a French foreign exchange student the following summer. A year later, I flew to the Normandy region of France to stay with my exchange student and her family for a month. I could barely understand any French after two years of high school French. For the most part, it was a very lonely, difficult experience, but I wanted to follow through on my promise to my parents that I would live and study in France one day.
I enrolled at a university in Montpellier, France for my junior year abroad in college. France and the French language both seemed incredibly beautiful yet intimidating to me. I wanted to be a part of that beauty and to tackle something big. I think I felt that if I could force myself out of my comfort zone in a significant way, I would no longer be afraid of life. It worked.


Colleen Lanin studying abroad in France

Me in my dorm room in Montpellier, France


What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

My year in Montpellier was both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. Montpellier is a college town filled with lots of foreign students. This worked to my advantage in that it was easy to make friends with other foreigners from around the world. I made friendships with students from Italy, Portugal, Africa, Ireland, England, France and from all over the US. Living in a town so filled with foreign students also made speaking French more difficult because local business owners were tired of us foreigners fumbling over their beautiful language, and they were not always patient or kind in expressing this frustration.
During my year abroad, I did not have a television, refrigerator, microwave, oven, or even telephone (and this was pre-cell phones and Internet). This lack of conveniences made the experience feel harrowing at times, especially because I felt so far removed from my family, friends, and life back home. Because we did not have access to these things, though, it strengthened my friendships with other foreign students. We had to rely on each other for entertainment and support.
My favorite memories in Montpellier are of doing simple things with my newfound friends...drinking coffees at sidewalk cafes, playing cards in our dorm rooms, eating pains au chocolats (chocolate-filled croissants) at local patisseries. We traveled quite a bit that year throughout Europe, too. I have many fond memories of making friends in youth hostels and navigating paper maps to find our way through a new town.


Colleen Lanin, studying abroad in France and taking a trip to Rome!

Me horsing around with friends in a park during a trip to Rome.


What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?
When I tell people that I was a French major, they often giggle, as though having a French degree is the silliest, most useless degree a person could pursue.  (I also have a certificate in international business and a minor in economics, and later I earned an MBA.) As a travel writer, having this educational background and study abroad experience has helped me to understand the world, other cultures, and language in a very useful way.


Colleen Lanin at the White House Travel Blogger Summit

Me at the White House Travel Blogger Summit


Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

Studying abroad made me more confident. It also opened my eyes to the possibilities of the world. I learned that I could create the life I wanted. It fueled a love of travel and exploring new places. If I hadn't studied abroad, I can't imagine who I would be today. I certainly would never have written my book, The Travel Mamas' Guide, or started my blog, TravelMamas.com.


Colleen Lanin surfing in Maui

Me surfing in Maui. This picture exemplifies how study abroad changed me. There is NO WAY I would have ever tried surfing had I not studied abroad. It’s made me more confident, less worried about looking stupid, and more willing to take risks and step outside my comfort zone


What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

Don't come up with excuses for why you can't study abroad. Come up with solutions instead. You can afford it. There are lots of programs to help you afford studying abroad and if you want something enough, you can find a way to make it happen. Don't wait until you feel confident in your language skills or until you have work experience to live abroad. My husband wanted to travel for a year after college but his dad talked him out of it. His dad said he should wait until he got work experience and saved money before traveling. Life took over and now he's tied to his career and our kids. It's the biggest regret of his life. Seize the day!


Colleen Lanin and family

Pictured with my husband and two kids in Keystone, Colorado last summer


How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

When I lived in France, I think a lot of my fellow students from the US were embarrassed to be American. We somehow felt less than our European counterparts. I felt like this at first, too. Eventually, though, living abroad made me appreciate the things that make America different. I am proud to be American and I am proud that I have lived outside my home country's borders because it makes me realize there is not one "right" culture. Each country is different, and that makes the world a wonderful place to live and explore!

#StudyAbroadBecause it kills prejudice, widens your horizons, and is a whole lot of fun!




This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators! Do you have one to share?




All photos courtesy and copyright Colleen Lanin