Reflections on a Semester Abroad

Study abroad is a truly unique experience.

The country, city, and university that host you all have a huge impact on your journey. In the span of one semester, you can learn so much about another culture as well as about yourself. You are able to experience an entirely new way of life and meet many individuals you never would have had the opportunity to otherwise. I personally have seen much growth in myself over the course of my study abroad experience. As my time has passed, I have learned a few extremely important lessons that I will continue to carry with me even when I return to America. 

1. It's Okay to Ask for Help

In the past, I had struggled to admit when I am unable to achieve something on my own. Many times my pride or the fear of appearing unintelligent, had kept me from reaching out when I was struggling. Schoolwork, navigating the GPS and even just carrying the groceries in one trip, were all situations where I used to feel the need to accomplish the simple task myself. When arriving in a foreign country, my fear of embarrassment went out the door. I was aware that I already stuck out as a tourist in most situations but now I have embraced that uncertainty and asked for help. I do not feel an expectation to be perfect as I am taking on the challenge of living somewhere new. By showing vulnerability and speaking up when I need help, I have not only gotten the answers I was looking for, but I was also able to connect with more people in my host country. Even if it's just the barista I need to ask for directions, I did it.

Getting help can only make you stronger.

Photo by Sachith Hettigodage-Pexels

2. Public Transportation is Not Scary

I've lived the majority of my life in the suburbs where driving is the main form of transportation. I took my learner's permit test as soon as I turned 16 to gain the independence of traveling on my own. With the privilege of driving, I had tended to shy away from trains and buses. In my host country, cars drive on the opposite side of the road, the steering wheel is on the other side of the car and the majority of cars are manual, not automatic. Additionally, I live in a busy city with lots of traffic, so relying on public transportation while abroad was the best option. At first, I was very nervous to take the bus or tram. However, now after months of getting around this way, I feel very comfortable using public transit. Even when I take trips to other countries, the subway systems no longer intimidate me.

I have learned to confidently navigate the timetables to get where I need to go. 

3. The Best Experiences Are the Ones You Do Not Plan

It is always nice to go on a trip that has every detail planned out. No stress is required and you can simply sit back and enjoy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have found that spontaneity is just as beneficial of a tool when it comes to traveling. Some of my favorite memories from this semester abroad have come from the pub we stumbled into by chance or a recommendation from a local of the city we are visiting for a few days. Sometimes you just never know what is going to happen until you are in the moment.

In these situations, the ability to adapt and go with the flow is very beneficial and can lead to some of the best experiences you never knew you wanted to have.

4. We're All More Alike Than We Are Different

A semester of travel has taught me a great deal about the human spirit and how individuals around the world interact with one another. While at times you may catch someone who is not having the best day, I have been fortunate to meet many people from all walks of life that remind me that at the core, we are all human. We all face challenges and hardships and we all need help to overcome them. Kindness and compassion towards others can go a long way.

Even though there are language barriers, it is easy to see our similarities regardless of our differences.