Studying abroad is one of the best experiences you can take advantage of as a college student. The opportunity to see new people, a new city, and a new part of the world is a grand adventure. You’ll approach it with excitement and a little bit of anxiety, all of which are completely worth it in the end.
First there is all the food to try. On my recent study abroad to Italy, there was not a plate of pasta anyone on the trip did not love. Regardless of where you go and where you stay, there will always be an opportunity to try new foods. Food seems to anchor us in our world, so of course a great way to get to know a new city and culture is through its food.
Potjiekos ‘little pot food’ in South Africa
What about a language, maybe, to learn and practice. There is absolutely no better way to improve your language skills in both a new language and English, than to study another language abroad. The exposure on a daily basis to native speakers will enhance your skills and allow you to improve your skillset rapidly. In addition, you will inevitably meet people looking to improve their English skills, thus improving those too. Even if you arrive in a city where you do not know the language, trust that your skills will develop quickly. There was a girl I met who did an exchange in Sweden. When she arrived in August she did not know one word, by the end of November she was fluent. The key, keep your mind and ears open and it will happen. Do not be afraid to ask for help and do all you can to enjoy the experience.
Travel! Depending on where you study abroad, the opportunity to travel to destinations beyond your host city or country are readily available. Easy access to rail throughout Europe and Asia makes travel to additional countries easy and reasonably cheap. The key is to do your homework before you go about where the trains are, when they run, and how they work. This is something a host family or classmates should be able to answer for you.
More than anything, studying abroad introduces you to the people and their customs. You can read any amount of material or see a documentary about different experiences, but the running of the bulls or watching an English football game in the stadium, offers no comparison. The opportunity to be able to mingle among the people, screaming and cheering as you take part in the festivities before, during, and after. You go grocery shopping and the cute guy in the produce section always smiles at you or the waiter at the local coffee shop that knows what you want when you walk in. It is not just about learning what holidays they celebrate and how they go about them, but why they are important and how it actually feels to be there, in the moment.
It is the quiet time, however, that will make the most impact. The times you experience the city and country, not as an American, but rather, as a member of the community. These are the moments that will help you realize and appreciate what life in America has to offer, the good and the bad. These are also the instants that will show you that life in America is just that, it is only in America. One of the most important lessons you can walk away with, is the idea that people are people, no matter where they are from. We all have moments of joy and sorrow, yet what studying abroad opens your eyes to is the notion that we truly are all the same, no matter where we are from and where we live.
Take a chance, if you can, and study abroad. If money is holding you back, contact your university. There are a number of different options to allow you to study abroad at varying costs. There are also ways to help you pay for your trip. Don’t let money or nervousness scare you away from what could be one of the best experiences of your life!