So yes, I am going to take a break for a second from design stuff and talk a little about my study abroad experience. Looking back at it now, I really wish that I would have blogged more often during the time I was over there but I guess now is as good enough of a time than ever to do it. Waiting one more day is probably one less thing I will remember to write about.
I’ve studied abroad three times you could say. In high school, I took a biology trip to Panama in Central America for two weeks, and in college, I’ve been on two categorized “Education Abroad Programs”. The first of the two was what my school calls a short term program. It was only for 14 days, but as you can imagine, we crammed as much touring, exploring and traveling into those 14 days as possible. The program was to Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris and I did receive 6 credits from the 14 days being gone (I know, right?!). The second of the two was a semester spent in Barcelona, Spain, in which I actually lived in Spain for 4 months and attended classes to receive 12 credits by the end of the semester.
All three of these experiences have gifted me tremendous growth as a person, and as a global citizen. All three times have been very different from one another, but all in all, I see the same life lessons emerge after reflecting upon my time abroad.
I came to the realization today actually of how important studying abroad truly was to me. It has helped shape who I am today in such a major way, and it has formed my opinions and values I hold closest to my heart. So, why is studying abroad so important you ask? The learning experience. Being abroad more than anything else is the most profound learning experience that I have gone through in my life (getting married, and raising children will probably come in close second and third). I’ve personally learned so much about myself that I would have never learned hadn’t I studied abroad. The amount of growth that takes place in just a mere 4 months is actually incredible.
I learned how to trust in myself and also in other people.
Dad, if you are reading this, you will be proud to know that I have realized that this is one of the most important things to understand while traveling. There will be times when you are abroad that you will feel lost, scared, and completely alone in a city of millions of people, and you WILL need help. You have to trust people, or you are never going to get anywhere in life. Yes there are terrorists, yes there are criminals, yes there are bad people out there, but I can tell you that the amount of GOOD people dramatically outweighs the amount of bad people in this world. At some point, when you are walking down a small, dark, dirt road at 1am in the middle of the Moroccan medina, with strange men whispering and staring at you, all you can do is look forward, follow your tour guide and TRUST that he is taking you to your hotel and not a dark alleyway (true story- and we ended up at our beautiful mosaic hotel safe and sound at the end of the road). I definitely learned to trust in myself as well as others while abroad. When you have your back against the wall, you have to rely on yourself to get to where you are going, and sometimes that can be scary, but when you can actually trust in yourself is when you can truly learn the importance of your independence.
I learned how to be independent and self-reliant.
Speaking along the same lines as trusting myself, I definitely “found” my independence while abroad. Even though I went abroad with a friend of mine, there were many times when I was on my own. Its actually amazing to go through the realization of being able to completely take care of yourself and be independent. Enough to even wake up at 2:30am on your own to catch a flight an hour later and navigate completely foreign cities with ease. This may sound like something that one should know how to do, but I certainly didn’t and I can tell you that when you are left alone without your parents, friends, or any form of communication, you realize that you can take care of yourself.
I learned to experience and feel every moment for what its worth.
This may be a little cliché, but its totally accurate. When you are in the midst of some of the best experiences of your life, you learn to switch your minutes into slow motion and just sit back and take in these amazing things that are happening to you. I had this ah-ha moment while sitting on the rooftop of a hotel in Santorini, Greece looking at the breathtaking sunset over the caldera. I remember thinking, wow, this is actually a dream. No picture could ever capture that feeling of being breathless in the presence of such beauty (not to mention the Greek men were not too bad to look at either). Its hard to put into words the moment when you realize that you are living a dream. Its also hard to look back on those times and believe that they were actually real. I still find myself questioning my sanity when I look at some of my pictures. Even after I returned to the United States, I saw this difference in myself even with being at home. I soaked in the moments of happiness, and cherished the time I had with loved ones in a much greater way than I ever have before. If you learn nothing else from being abroad, at least try to apply this concept to your life. I promise you, it will do nothing but bring good to your days.
I learned to take advantage of the opportunities that were given to me.
I took this two different ways. Philosophically speaking, I learned to take advantage of my knowledge and curiosity. I let my wondrous mind lead my exploration and point me to where I was to find my next adventure. If I would have dismissed my thoughts, I would have never found and learned some of the things that I did while being abroad. Literally speaking, I learned to take advantage of opportunities that were presented to me. In order for this to be truly rewarding, I had to be saying a lot more “yes” and a lot less “no”. Hike up a volcano? Yes. Camp in the Sahara Desert? Yes. Volunteer in a Spanish school? Yes. Eat raw sails? Yes. I didn’t let anything stand in the way of me experiencing some of these opportunities. Life is too short to be saying no to things and having to regret them later.
I learned to be adaptable.
I think this, more than anything else is what every student should have to think about before going abroad. You HAVE to learn how to be adaptable and flexible. There were definitely times when things didn’t go as planned, and I had to adapt to the situation and figure out a plan B. Whether it be a canceled connecting flight, a missed train, or a unexpected food poisoning, you have to figure out a way to get through it. I find this to be extremely important, not just in a study abroad experience, but also in life. Obstacles are going to arise when you least expect them. They might knock you down, or change your path, but its how you respond to these challenges that help you learn and grow.
So for all of you people out there that think studying abroad is a waste of time and money, here is a few reasons to prove you wrong. Not only did I come back from my abroad trips full of memories and amazing experiences, but I truly came home as a changed individual, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
St. Cloud State University
Participating in international education is an essential key to unlock one’s door to discovering one’s journey. It teaches you important aspects of life and facets of yourself that you wouldn’t find staying in one place. Studying abroad awakens the mind in ways that you have never thought before and only the lucky ones who experience it will get to know that incredible feeling. My experience overseas has done just this to me. Never, in such a short period of time, have I learned more about myself, about culture and about the world outside of the Midwest. I will always cherish the friendships I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had during that life changing time of my life.