A Broad Experience
If you want to find yourself, put an ocean or a mountain range between you and the life you know.
Study abroad is an experience that is very specific. It’s not going to another country on a vacation. You don’t go to a major city and just see the famous stuff, I mean you do, but that’s not all it is.
You live there.
You have to adapt to a new culture, even if it’s not one that is close to your own. You become aware of the words you use and everyone is quick to point out your accent. You notice nuances.
You have to study and learn. You attend classes and spend about as much time studying as you would have had to do at home anyway. There’s a chance to see education, politics, media and life in a new light. If you just go somewhere, you don’t get that. You’re a tourist, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I felt no connection to the places I visited for a few days and then left.
Sure, I had fun and had a boatload of experiences under my hat, but I don’t get nostalgic for Paris. I get nostalgic for a little pub in Stirling, Ireland that I would go and play chess in with the friends I made at the University.
You are dropped in this new world and basically left to you own devices. You have to figure most things out on your own when you get there. And no matter how much planning you do before you get there, you feel unprepared.
When’s the last time you navigated a place you didn’t know without data or Wi-Fi? How about in a city where you, for all intents and purposes, are illiterate and can hardly mumble out a few syllables in a foreign language?
There are skills I feel you only appreciate when it becomes your normal. You have to learn how to read a paper map and how bus routes work. And if you are like me, you gain an unhealthy appreciation for European public transportation, especially trains.
You learn to understand accents and start to naturally slow down your own. You learn how to ask where the bathroom is in three different languages and that not all English is the same.
You learn to live outside your comfort zone and make headway in cities you only dreamed about going to. I found a new side of myself; I found confidence and a kind of curiosity I forgot about – the kind that makes me want to see the world no matter how improbable that seems.
I feel all of this is important. I feel it is something that needs more attention and praise. It is something that should be open and encouraged to everyone.