The Value of Studying Not-Quite-Abroad

Nothing has changed my perspective, my sense of self, and my life more than studying abroad for five weeks … in Quebec, Canada. Sure, the culture was incredibly similar to the culture in the United States, but there’s something about being in a new place all by myself that brought out the best in me. I traveled there to learn French (which I did), but what I didn’t expect was that I would learn I’m more self-sufficient and outgoing than I ever thought I could be. I’ve always been an introvert, which was evident during the first week of the program when I would retreat to the library during lunchtime to read my book: a French translation of Harry Potter, of course. But after interacting with my classmates a little more and after becoming more comfortable with getting to know people in choppy, grammatically incorrect French, I blossomed. For some reason, knowing that I would never see these people again made me more confident in connecting with them. It also helped that we were all struggling with French, so everyone was just as awkward as I was. I was one of the only Americans in the program, but I never felt isolated. In fact, I enjoyed comparing Canadian politics with American politics, joking about our shared culture, and even getting made fun of for not understanding temperatures in Celsius. I was also one of the youngest students in the program, which forced me to fake maturity in order to fit in. As a result, I actually became more mature, confident and independent. 

               photo source: Nina Plummer

I’m not saying it’s necessary to leave the country in order to experience personal growth; on the contrary, I learned that it doesn’t take an overseas trip to learn more about yourself. Going to college is an excellent example of this. However, visiting somewhere with a different culture and/or language forces you to discover sides of yourself you never knew existed. If you are on the fence about traveling somewhere new, I definitely think you should go for it. I was terrified before I left, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Even if you want to stay in North America or even in the country, you can learn so much about yourself by surrounding yourself with new people and trying new things. You don’t have to go far to experience a completely different culture, so there’s no excuse for staying within your comfort zone. Whether you go to Canada or Cambodia, you will find out you are capable of more than you thought possible. 

               photo source: Branden Valente

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