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I’m hoping you’ll read this essay. It’s about a study abroad experience, and while the photographs we used to illustrate it are travelogue-ish, the story this student chose to tell is about what he learned when he was far away from home and everyone he’d ever known. And what he learned was to trust himself.

This is a nice young man who was an intern in our office last year. We sent him on the very long bus ride to Texas for the football team’s national championship game that year, and I asked him to write about the trip. He understood that the purpose of an essay is to impart something meaningful, which tends to involve revealing a bit about yourself. He agonized as he complied. He wrote and rewrote and fretted and suffered. He’s a good Upper Midwesterner, well aware that talking about yourself is all but taboo.

Then he went off for a semester in France.

It reminds me of an exercise from my first day in first grade. Mrs. Bender had us draw a picture of ourselves. My self portrait was careful. I used several different crayon colors, had an inexplicably non-human shaped torso with an inverted u on each side and a lovely hat, with a flower poking from the side. We must have stored the pictures somewhere and forgotten about them as we acclimated to being in school. Then on the last day of school, Mrs. Bender again had us draw pictures of ourselves. This time the assignment was quick and easy. A few strokes of a red pencil and done. Dashed it off and handed it in. Had the world by the horns.

Matthew followed this same pattern. His first essay was tightly controlled, but his second one was loose and bold and confident. I actually had to remove a couple of cuss words. (They were descriptive and well placed, but this is a family-friendly publication, after all.) The “old” Matthew would not have dared submit such a thing, but this post-study-abroad Matthew is fearless. What a privilege to observe someone’s leap to confidence.

Thank you for reading.

Twitter: @lauramcdan

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Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.