Last spring, I had the incredible opportunity to spend the semester as a research assistant for animal behavior at a remote bush camp in Kenya. Coming back to this fall semester at Michigan State University has been quite the re-adjustment, and it’s given me time to reflect on my experience abroad and what made the most impact on me. If I had to narrow down the benefits of my experience (which is very difficult to do!) to three main takeaways, here is what they would be.
Going abroad shows you how many people have your back
When you think of the benefits of studying abroad, this is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. And yet, at least in my case, it was one of the most impactful parts of my experience. I created my study abroad experience individually (meaning it was not a pre-approved program through MSU’s Office of Education Abroad), so the support of the people around me was instrumental in making the entire experience possible. For the entire semester leading up to my traveling to Kenya, I was frantically running around to different offices at MSU, making sure with the admissions, financial aid, education abroad, Honors College, and registrar’s office that I could participate in this opportunity. Everyone was so understanding and enthusiastic about the once-in-a-lifetime chance that I had to do this, and it reassured me that I wasn’t expected to shoulder the process alone. When I ran into logistical roadblocks trying to get my travel approved, my amazing research mentor stepped in and solved the problem from her end. Having everyone rooting for me as I was preparing to embark on this journey (and, unsurprisingly, freaking out about it) was so heartwarming. It made the entire process as smooth and relatively non-stressful as possible. It showed me how many people would have my back as I pursued this dream in a different country.
it widens your perspective
This is a HUGE (and expected!) benefit of studying abroad and I still actively see the effects in my daily life. Through your experiences, the people you meet, and the culture you enjoy that’s so different from your own, your perspective on life inevitably gets much broader. After coming home from my trip, I felt like I had to readjust from not having “tunnel vision,” if you will. My time in Africa was the first time I had been any farther out of the United States than the Caribbean, and the culture shock was initially intense. Where I was studying, in a remote bush camp in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, there was no Wi-Fi, no running water, and minimal electricity. There was no use for bedroom decorations – I was living in a tent. All laundry was done by hand. There were no restaurants or fast food, and we were largely isolated from others. Coming back to the States, it was unbelievable to me how much stock we put into material possessions and things that we can get on demand. After living comfortably and with some of my closest friends in Kenya for four months without anything unnecessary, coming back to some of my routines in the States felt almost wasteful. Immersing myself into that mindset was a reset of priorities for me, and it has stuck with me since. I’m eternally grateful to the incredible, kind people I met in Africa for giving me the gift of their time and company and how it made me realize that is what truly matters.
you develop as both a student and a person
This one is the most obvious but probably also the most important takeaway. Coming back from an experience abroad makes you realize how much you’ve grown. Being a Zoology student concentrating in Animal Behavior and Neurobiology, the skills I developed throughout my time doing field research on animal behavior are invaluable and will serve me incredibly well for the rest of my undergraduate career and into my future. I also found that traveling abroad on my own boosted my confidence and showed me that I was a capable individual and could pursue anything I set my mind to. The people I met showed me a lot about what it meant to value a person for their being, not for their background or education or even their age, and allowed me to make some of my closest friends that I continue to cherish and connect with after being home for several months. I relied so much less on peripheral connections and social media when I returned home – I had such meaningful friendships and never found the need to pursue a connection over a phone screen while in the field.
Reflecting back on my experience abroad, I have changed for the better. These takeaways I have mentioned, although completely true, simply do not do justice to the incredible things you are able to enjoy while studying abroad. If you are wondering whether you should study abroad at MSU… go for it! It is worth it and will change you for the better.