Regrets are not just the things we should not have done. They’re also things we should have done. Like missing the deadline to apply for a job you wanted, not e-mailing that visiting professor to get off the waitlist for her seminar or never kissing the boy who lived down the hall freshman year. Those are all regrets. And it’s easy to be rational and smug. To convince ourselves: “I’m great right now, and every decision I have made has led me to where I am right now, therefore, I have no regrets.” But that would be a lie, because regret is not so black and white—especially when we regret something we never did.
Like how I didn’t study abroad.
Maybe I should have listened to the horror story we’ve all heard. (The one about the engineer who didn’t study abroad, and got so depressed she flunked out of school. No one heard from her again.) Or at least I should have listened to everyone who has ever bragged: “Studying abroad changed my life!”
Don’t get me wrong—it was not an easy decision to make. I got a lot of “What do you mean you’re not studying abroad?” People thought the concept of not spending a semester away from Duke was tragic. They acted as though I had nothing left to live for, half-expecting me to throw myself on the floor in an overgrown-7-year-old candy-aisle-style tantrum. My decision not to partake in the third-year mass exodus to Europe was not made lightly, but I chose to pursue a double major not conducive to spending a semester in a Spanish-speaking country and had goals I wanted to accomplish on campus—which grounded me in Durham.
This is where everything becomes blurry. I do not regret staying at Duke. It may come as a shock to many, but I survived. I even flourished. I made great friends I would not have met otherwise, interned at the Nasher Museum of Art and spent Thanksgiving in San Francisco with my family. By all means, I had a great semester. It wasn’t until everyone else came back from abroad that I found myself missing something I didn’t have. I suddenly regretted not having a semester of freedom, new beginnings, curiosity, excitement and social reinvention. I had no new pictures from Oktoberfest and no great story about hitchhiking my way to Bulgaria.
So can we regret something we’ve never experienced? Or is this feeling a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out)? Or a desire for something we don’t have? Do I wish I could start over and get on that plane? Either route for me had its potential benefits. It is impossible to be in two places at once, and if I had gone abroad, I would not have been without nights thinking of all the things I was missing at Duke. I have found that it’s important not to dwell on these things. Not to beat myself up over them. My life is awesome. Still, there is nothing wrong in admitting I regret not going abroad. It shows that I’ve learned and changed. In fact, it makes me realize how fortunate I am. I had a choice between two great experiences, and I chose the one that seemed best at the time. Now I can reflect back to realize they both were great options.
I don’t consider myself religious, but in times like this, I find it helpful to believe things happen for a reason. We don’t get into that dance performance club, a cappella group, fraternity, internship program or sports team we desperately wanted, and we are left feeling like our life is essentially over. But things aren’t black and white. There’s a reason for everything that happens. And other opportunities open up. I could have gone abroad and had a great time. But I didn’t. Instead, I stayed and enjoyed my time at Duke.
To anyone else who chose to stay at Duke last semester: Brush off your shoulders, forgive everyone for flaunting how amazing their semester abroad was, accept partial regret and keep moving forward.
To everyone who now is deciding whether or not to study abroad: Choose what feels right for you, independent of everyone else. If you choose to go, I hope it’s amazing. If you decide it’s definitely not for you, congratulations—you’re more confident than I was. And, if you’re not sure, consider yourself lucky. You have a great decision to make.
Niva Taylor is a Pratt junior. Her column runs every other Thursday.