Study abroad programs have exploded over the past 10 years, and it’s no surprise as to why. Who wouldn’t want to live and travel abroad for a semester while simultaneously receiving academic credits? However, there are still some students who question participating in a semester abroad.
Study abroad programs have exploded over the past 10 years, and it’s no surprise as to why. Who wouldn’t want to live and travel abroad for a semester while simultaneously receiving academic credits? However, there are still some students who question participating in a semester abroad. I understand why some students can’t due to financial reasons, but I’ve learned that there is a huge chunk of students who don’t study abroad because they’re scared.
Leaving your comfort zone and entering the unknown is terrifying, I’ll be the first to admit that. The university that I went to in Connecticut had huge study abroad programs in Rome and Australia, but no options in Spain like I had wanted. I did a bunch of research and found an amazing program with Florida State University in Valencia, Spain. I didn’t know a single person doing the program, let alone anyone at FSU, and I didn’t speak any Spanish. However, I decided to take the plunge and applied to the program. My excitement went through the roof once I got accepted. All I could talk about the entire summer was “I’ll be studying abroad in Spain this fall.” However, a week before my departure, my brain was flooded with major doubts and fears. “What if I don’t make friends or like anyone in the program? Will the other students like me? I speak virtually no Spanish. How will I get around? What if I hate it? I’m stuck there for 4 months. What have I gotten myself into?”
Anyone want to take a guess as to what happened? I LOVED it. Doing that program was the best decision of my life. I have never grown and changed so much in just a few months, for the better. I met so many incredible people and I’m still close with a group of 5 girls. My roommate and I even visit each other once-twice a year (we alternate between Miami and NYC since that’s where we’re from). So go ahead, push yourself to get out of that comfort zone! You will never grow as a person if you’re constantly stuck in a bubble.
Now that we’ve gotten past the fear, I want to tell you guys a few wonderful things that happen when you go out and see the world. I saw an impressive statement on a random wall in Barcelona that read “Travel is the best University” in multiple languages. It still adheres with me. You can study every time period possible in all your history classes, but nothing actually compares to seeing pieces of history with your own eyes. Touring the Roman Coliseum, stepping into Anne Frank’s room, admiring the superb paintings of Van Gogh and Picasso, exploring ancient castles and churches, walking along the Berlin Wall that separated families for 28 years, getting neck pain from staring at Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and much, much more. I could not even begin to start explaining what it was like, actually seeing parts of history that I had once read in a dusty old textbook. I’ve felt sorrow, eeriness, joy, gratitude, and numerous other feelings, all of which have contributed to enhancing my perspective on what I have learned.
You will communicate in new ways. When language becomes a barrier, you will become more aware of hand, body, and facial gestures that will help you understand what the other person is trying to tell you. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that there are two universals in this world: a smile and beer. Remember that a smile is the same in every language and that the best way to bond with any new friend is over a nice tall glass (or five) of cold beer.
You will be doing things on your own. And I mean really on your own. For example, you go grocery shopping at Whole Foods — you know where everything is, what brands you like, price points, etc. Go abroad and you’re basically starting from scratch. The same brands you’ve known to love are not always there, you can’t understand what it is you’re buying sometimes, and you don’t know if you could find a better price at another market. It took me a week to figure out how to order deli cut turkey and other meats from the local market. I literally googled the Spanish word for turkey and a sentence that translated into “I want 7-9 thin slices of turkey, ham, etc.” You will learn a sense of direction — you will either walk, bike, or metro it to wherever you need.
You will be planning out all your trips and learning how to book flights, find the best deals and dates, and the best hostels/airbnbs out there. You will learn how to really keep track of your money and you’ll be constantly trying to figure out conversion rates. You will learn to never judge a book by its cover. You will learn that everyone you meet has a story. You will learn how absolutely outrageous and incredibly fun it is when a group of five of you see 4 countries in 10 days (Fall Break). You will even learn that trying new foods that you may find a little out there is actually part of learning about a new culture (and that some of those crazy dishes are actually delicious).
You will go on amazing adventures. I’ve been lucky enough to go hiking and white water rafting in the Pyrenees Mountains, scuba diving (without a license) in the Mediterranean Sea, luckily stumbling upon and watching an International Snowboarding competition in Sweden, witnessing a live bullfight, playing tennis in multiple countries, swimming in the Blue Grotto in Capri, tanning topless and drinking sangria on the beach with my friends, and much more. You will party like never before and learn how to say “shots” and “cheers” in more languages than you would’ve guessed.
Take the plunge. Go see what’s out there in this wonderful world and you might be pleasantly surprised. You might make a new best friend, you might find a new favorite place, you might meet the love of your life, you might even have the best time of your life. And like myself, you may never want to come home because a semester abroad just wasn’t enough time. Remember that the best things in life occur when you leave your comfort zone.
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