Having an International Experience
I will never forget when you asked me why I was leaving the US to go abroad for a year. Your reasoning was that the US had so many incredible factors that it was incomprehensible to you that I might want to explore something more. I understand that my path isn’t the most common one (I mean, I could have done a semester abroad instead like a ‘normal’ person…), but I have had 8 years to think about it and I think that it is important to reflect on the benefits of an international experience.
I have always been good at doing what I am supposed to do. When I lived in my small town I grew up in, I got good grades and had good friends and didn’t drink and drive, but I never really felt like I belonged there. My dad is from a big city on the west coast and my mom is a foreigner. They both studied fine arts and I grew up with a studio in the garage of my old farm house. The people in my conservative town are wonderful people, people who became like family to me during the eighteen years I lived there. But I didn’t really fit, and going abroad changed my perspective on life.
My parents have always supported me even when the choices I make seem ridiculous to other people in my life (“why would you go abroad before college, no one will give you scholarships?” or “why would you want to know other languages?”). Without their support I probably wouldn’t have made it through some of the beautifully strange things I have done. And I wouldn’t be the person I am today. But back to the question at hand: why should you have an international experience?
I think the first reason is self-discovery. While I don’t doubt that this phase of life exists when you go away to college for the the first time at home, living out self-discovery abroad (and perhaps in another language) is definitely an experience. Why? You have the opportunity to define yourself in a situation where no one knew your name (except for maybe your academic adviser). Is this scary? You betcha. But at the the end of the day, this self-discovery/self-definition is a wonderful way to decide who you want to be.
The second reason is the self-empowerment. Anyone who has lived abroad for any reason (studying, living, etc.) will tell you that getting used to the way other people live is not easy. No matter how much you love the community and culture you find abroad, it takes a lot to make that life yours. When you get to a point where you are able to live in a different culture from the one you are used to, you have this amazing feeling of accomplishment. It’s like “yes! I did it! I can do whatever I put my mind to.” You will be proud of what you have done, and you deserve to be proud!
The third reason I would recommend a study abroad program is for the language development. Unless you choose to study in an English-speaking country―which is just as awesome and possibly just as hard as other countries―you will have to carry out a portion of your daily life in another language. When you try it, you’ll see how awesome you’ll feel as you are able to conquer the roller coaster of learning another language. This will also help you will your self-discovery and feeling accomplished.
The final reason I would recommend an international experience is because it will help you in the future. Now, I am not specifically saying that you should do it because it will look good on your resume, but I honestly believe that the intercultural/multicultural competence that you can gain while living abroad is priceless. Taking advantage of getting to know different types of people and cultures helps you when you have to take on various workplace situations. And trust me, these types of competences will help you respect others and build relationships when, culturally-speaking, it isn’t always easy.
Going abroad is scary. Using study abroad programs as a ‘safer’ way to get away is a good option, but I would personally say that doing something out of the box isn’t a bad option either―choose what feels right to you. Consider your options, talk to the people who support you, and figure out a way to be yourself in another country.
P.S. International experiences tend to be kind of addicting, so just as a warning be prepared to get hooked!
P.P.S.If you have any questions or comments about my journey, or any questions about living abroad in general, feel free to ask!