When I first decided to study abroad my first semester of sophomore year everyone thought I was crazy. The staff at the study abroad office were confused and repeatedly told me I would be the youngest one there, which was fine with me because I was beyond ready to go. Studying abroad truly is an experience that everyone in college should take advantage of because it will change your life.
At first, it was just an opportunity to finally visit London and travel, while still getting college credits (all pass/fail which made life less stressful). I also lucked out because I went to an English speaking country and I didn’t have to worry about taking another language and instead got to take an Intro to Photography course. Even without having to learn a new language it’s a chance to immerse yourself in another culture and learn a different way of life.
Traveling abroad is a great way to develop some independence, you’re now placed in a foreign country (most likely without knowing anyone) and have to stand on your own two feet. This is a “skill” on your resume, you are able to adapt in a new environment, work independently and communicate with people from different cultures and viewpoints.
In case you’re not worried about the practical application of study abroad for jobs and just want to get away, travel, drink and meet new people, study abroad is still for you. Some of the best memories I have are from my time spent abroad and I’ve made friends for life. I still kept in touch with many of the people I met and they continue to be my go-to support team. Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to someone from my undergrad study abroad experience.
You go through so many experiences with the people you study abroad with that it’s only inevitable you’re going to become fast friends. After all you’ve gone through culture shock together and probably bonded over missing home, in addition to all the adventures. Not to mention the fact that you’re going to classes with these people, living with them and going out with them on a daily basis. And if you’re anything like my group, at the end you’re so attached and depressed to be leaving one another that you will actually see how many mattresses you can fit in the a room (or the hallway) so you can spend your last nights together.
These people are more than just friends to me, they’re my family, we’ve celebrated birthdays, organised trick-or-treating for our English friends and hosted an American Thanksgiving. We shared the chores of cleaning, gave sisterly and motherly advice when our family wasn’t there to skype because of the time differences and we became better friends because of it.
In addition to it being all fun and games it’s a unique life-changing experience and I can speak from personal experience, studying abroad has completely changed not only my life but who I am as a person. When you’re forced to live in a new place with a different lifestyle and possible language differences, you find deep down you have a different personality. Typically, this is the cause of “reverse culture shock,” which hit me hard, but when you find a way to combine your new self and your old self to create a “third culture formation” you’re set. This third culture formation will help determine how you deal with situations in the future, be it canceled fights home, relationships, jobs, etc.
Many people (especially parents) have this misconception that studying abroad is a luxury that doesn’t help further your future, unless you’ve become fluent in another language in this ever growing global world. However, studying abroad is so much more and the benefits are there even if you don’t see them immediately. For example, you’re more open to change and willing to adapt when you get a job offer across the country or in a different country because you’ve done it before and survived.
What I’ve learned since going back abroad for my MA and going on different job and internship interviews is that my study abroad has given me a lot of life skills that I’m able to spin into marketable workplace skills. It’s all about perspective, I might be biased but I think everyone should take advantage of study abroad programs as an undergrad because it’s an invaluable experience.
Life was meant to be lived and how many chances in your life are you going to get to pick up and move to another country for a few months, while still working towards something bigger. Go and find adventure and discover a new personality without yourself (you might like them better) and when you move back home take the experiences back with you. Study abroad can change your life if you give it the chance and stay open to the possibilities.