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What I Learned While Studying Abroad

Everyone should study abroad and yes, that is my professional opinion as a senior in college. Ohio University alone offers education abroad trips to Ghana, Israel and London, and that doesn’t even include locations offered by companies like Education First (EF), the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP).
 
I personally spent two quarters abroad in Toledo, Spain (making me an expert, obviously) and recently stumbled upon my two-year old blog, Hola, From Amanda in Spain. Here is an excerpt:
 
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
4:48 p.m.
“I am currently sitting in my room in my house in Buenavista, Toledo, eating chocolates that I received from Los Reyes (the kings)! My feelings about Spain over the past five days have gone from ‘I’m completely in love with it here!’ to ‘Oh my God, this place is terrible, take me home now.’ Right now I’m in between optimistic and sleepy. Optimistic because I know that once I’m on a schedule, a normal routine, I’ll be able to feel more comfortable in my new setting. And sleepy because I just ate a lot of paella with shrimp, clams, oysters, chicken and vegetables, with bread and a baked apple for dessert. Yum!”
 
After reading through dozens of outdated posts, I realized that I mainly blogged about food, drinking and random weekend trips around Europe. But looking back, underneath all of the superficial stuff, I learned valuable lessons about others and myself. Here are some of those lessons I learned while studying aboard, and why I think everyone should jump at the chance to do the same:
 
Freedom and Independence
As depressing as it sounds, while studying abroad you will no longer be connected 24/7 with your friends and family. You have to create new friendships and learn to not rely on your close relations for everything. But under all of the sadness you may feel from being disconnected to your friends and family, you will gain a sudden feeling of independence and freedom. You will learn how to be alone and that it’s okay to be alone.
 
Without studying abroad in a foreign country without foreign experiences, you may never learn to live on your own. If I wouldn’t have spent six months on Spain I would be completely dependant on my friends – but I learned that it’s okay to take a walk alone, self, sit at home alone and read or even see a movie alone.
 

Facing Adversity
While abroad you will meet many different types of people from different countries with a vast variety of backgrounds and opinions. While abroad, you will have to learn how to face adversity. Everyday you will go out into a new world that you know nothing about, where you will learn independence. You will learn how to not be alone but also how to rely on almost perfect strangers for support.
 
Studying aboard, to me, is a warning for what “real life” is to come. You are thrown into a completely new situation and you won’t know what’s coming – you will have to roll with the punches. That’s what studying abroad is – a completely new place, a new culture and a new set of rules. It’s about learning these new rules through trial and error. And sometimes your host mom will yell at you for using too much electricity, but you will learn how to adapt.
 
Confidence
I studied abroad in a country and with a program where I was required to speak a foreign language most of the day. Each day I felt more and more comfortable with my skills. I soon learned by overcoming this adversity that, “Wow! If I can do this, I can do anything!” I also didn’t have many non-American friends, so I tried to make an effort to talk to complete strangers in the grocery store, at the bus stop and in the bars.
 
Like me, you’ll return to the U.S. and show off your newfound skills by talking to complete strangers and making a fool of yourself but that’s okay! You’re confident now.
 
Friendship
When you return to the states this is the true test as to who matters to you. Who did you stay in contact with? Who did you bring back gifts for? After being gone for six months, who do you want to call the most? This new experience will teach you to appreciate your friendships more than ever. And your new friendships will become increasingly important. You and your friends from studying abroad are now forever bonded by this experience together. 10 years from now when I look back to my Spain blog or my photos, my first thought will be, “My great friend Liz really made that experience special.” And she really did.
 
With an abundance of resources at Gordy and Lindley Halls, the availability of scholarships and grant money, studying abroad is no longer an impractical dream – anyone can take the plunge and spend a quarter or two abroad. As cheesy as it sounds, this invaluable experience will teach you independence, confidence and shape you in innumerable ways.
 
For more information about study abroad programs at Ohio University, check out the education abroad office’s website: http://www.ohio.edu/educationabroad/.

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