6 Reasons Everyone Should Study Abroad
My study abroad experience is one that I will absolutely never forget. I spent the fall semester of my junior year of college living in the East End of London. I ate too much food and spent too much money, but even now, as I pay back the money I borrowed to make that trip possible, I have no regrets.
I always knew I would study abroad and I knew I would do it London. I’m not sure where my infatuation with London came from, I was just always obsessed with it. There are a ton of programs out there though that can help you decide what country and city are right for you.
I assumed studying abroad would enlighten me or teach me something about myself, but I never could have imagined the impact it would have on my life and my future. It was an invaluable experience, and here is why it could be for you too.
Learn About Yourself
Like I said, there are tons of programs out there that allow you to push yourself as far outside your comfort zone as you’re willing to go. For example, you can go on a faculty-led trip with a group of students from your home university or you can go independently. Stay for a year or only a few weeks. I chose to go independently for a semester. I landed in London with nothing but a suitcase (or five) and excitement.
One day, I was sitting on the tube and a gentleman sitting next to me asked what I was studying. I told him that here (in London) I was studying history, but at home my major was journalism. He looked at me and said, well what are you going to do with both of those? I had absolutely no idea. It wasn’t until I had this experience that I started thinking critically about what I wanted to do and what direction I was heading. Thank you, sir, whoever you are.
On a more personal level, I finally felt like I was in a place where no one was judging me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could do or think whatever I wanted and no one could force me to change my mind or make me feel inadequate. Growing up, I always felt like maybe I was different than my peers but I was too afraid of being ostracized or not having friends, so I just kind of put my head down and tried to fit the mold.
Well, the mold is meant to be broken. I feel like I found myself, and I was learning, and more open than ever before. To be honest, I felt free. I also felt like the people I was surrounding myself with encouraged me to feel this way, which was such a breath of fresh air.
Eat and Drink a Little Too Much
I was 20 years old when I lived in London, so I came ready to eat and drink my way through Europe. I went to tea at Harrods’s and ate one too many finger sandwiches, chowed down on street kebabs and went to Ben’s Cookies way more times than I’d like to admit. Of course I also had to try and the all the ciders and beers I wasn’t old enough to try back home.
I might have come home a few pounds heavier, but it was so worth it. When you’re traveling and having new experiences, the last thing you should do is restrict yourself from trying all the food a different culture has to offer. Obviously don’t take things to an unhealthy place, but enjoy yourself. I did, and I’ll never have second thoughts about that.
Absorb a New Culture
When you’re living somewhere you’ve never been before, even if it’s just a new city, you have to immerse yourself in the culture. You should learn what the mannerisms are and respect them. Living somewhere completely different is an opportunity to learn how other people function on a daily basis, so embrace it!
I found myself saying cheers instead of thank you and drinking tea by the gallon. By the time I was getting ready to leave, I felt like I belonged.
Make Lifelong Friendships
I can’t even begin to tell you how thankful I am for the people I met and the friends I made while I was abroad. Although I went over to London individually, I was part of a larger group of American students going through a study abroad agency called International Studies Abroad (ISA). Through ISA I made lifelong friendships and met people from countries all over the world. I lived with two people from Germany, one from Australia and although my other two flat mates were from America, one was from Idaho and the other from Rhode Island – both places I had never been to.
There was a group of six girls that I spent a lot of my time with. We were all so incredibly different, but had each other in common. I’ll never forget the nights out, the walks in the park and the dinners we all had together. Those girls are more special to me then they’ll ever know because they helped me become a better version of myself while I was away from everything I knew.
Enjoy Time Off, But Don’t Get Too Comfortable
Studying abroad really isn’t about school. At least for me it wasn’t. I mean, don’t go over there and fail your classes, but also don’t get wrapped up in them. While I was abroad it was the first time in my life since I was 12 years old that I didn’t have a job. Growing up, my parents owned a restaurant so we worked every weekend and through the summers as soon as we could see above the host stand.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I had a few lazy moments while I was abroad, and part of me wishes I could go back and take greater advantage of the time I had. It was just so surreal because after a while it stopped feeling like a vacation, and once that feeling set in I felt like I had the rest of my life to wander down tiny streets and visit outdoor markets. Then, one day, it was over. When it stopped feeling like a vacation I lost my sense of urgency to go see all the sites.
Spend Too Much Money
Money is a big part of studying abroad. You have to be able to pay for your trip in advance and if you go somewhere like London, it’s a hefty bill. I applied for absolutely all the financial aid I could get and also took out a private student loan from Wells Fargo.
In hindsight, I wish I would have borrowed a little more so I could have done more travelling throughout Europe. At the time, all I could think about was how bad it was going to be to pay the loans back, which is correct, it’s awful now that I’m done with school, but, toward the end of my trip I couldn’t do as many things or go as many places because I was running out of money.
Studying abroad was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if I understood back then that a few more thousand dollars would have allowed me to travel to more countries or see more shows without being totally financially ruined now, I would have just borrowed the extra two or three grand.
I am definitely not encouraging you to borrow irresponsibly because you should never do that. I’m simply saying that if you have to take out a loan to finance your experience, it’s better to borrow enough so you can really live during your time abroad and not stress about money.
Even if you unsure about travelling or you have no idea what country you’d want to live in, get online and start researching! Studying, volunteering or interning abroad is something you can’t do as easily as an adult who has graduated from college. Take advantage of your youth and create new experiences for yourself!
Have you studied abroad? Tell me about your experience in the comments!