For years now I have had the good fortune of providing last minute guidance to those about to embark on a study abroad experience (aka, pre departure orientations). In all of those years one might suspect the message has changed or developed, much like our world has. Funny though, some things remain the same – as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. A quick search on the internet is all it takes to get you the top suggestions for a successful experience while over seas. While making copies of your passport and letting your bank know you will be abroad are important, here I am going to jump behind the basics – yes you read that correctly – lets take a dive into a more existential explanation of what makes for success while abroad.
Ghandi reminds us that the best way to find yourself is to throw yourself into the service of others. There are few circumstances in life more uniquely individual and affirming than when a cultural stranger (that’s you) extends their hand. This can take many forms, cleaning a beach, teaching English, or serving food to those who are homeless. It’s rewarding to do these things here at home though imagine how the results might differ when you are forced to step out of your comfort zone and work for the common good, sans American perspective and all that goes along with it. Trust me, take time to serve others while abroad, there are life lessons to be learned here that you will not find in any classroom.
You will also do well to approach your time abroad as a break from your life here in the US. Sounds simple enough though do keep in mind that the more you successfully immerse yourself in a new culture is directly related to how much of your own you have decided to leave behind. Of course you arrive in a new land with certain truths, all of us do and this is normal though you will enrich your experience by doing your best to keep an open mind. This often leads to insights into other’s way of life and while at first glance may seem peculiar, a deeper and more patient study will prove not only how fascinating other cultures are, but something that can only be learned from direct experience – respect for the diverse world we all share.
Depending on who you talk to, life is at best unpredictable. You may or may not travel to these locations again. Using your common sense and respect for life, step out and say yes to as many opportunities as possible while abroad. There are bound to be a few that won’t pan out as you thought they would, though those often make for the best stories later. Of those that do, you will reap the benefit of memories to last a lifetime. We will provide safe, clean, and exceptionally located housing while you’re abroad – don’t spend too much time there!
I hope you find these tips useful. Remember, playing small is appropriate in certain situations though much of what study abroad has to offer will require you to play big – take full advantage!