Why should I study abroad anyway?
First of all, I just want to say that the fact that you are even considering studying abroad excites me. I’m definitely biased, seeing as studying abroad in Spain has changed the course of my entire life, but I think this is one of the most exciting and transformative choices you may make. Even if you study abroad for just a short time and never leave the US again, you are sure to gain important life skills and amazing memories from your international exploration.
While everyone’s experience will be slightly different, here are the things that I have found to be true and that I hope will convince you that studying abroad is, in fact, a very valuable experience.
1.) Leaving home is scary: I thought that moving two hours from home to attend my university in central Illinois was difficult (and it was). That is, until I considered the idea of moving to a different country―where I knew NO ONE and was only moderately comfortable with the language. I’ll be honest with you, I mostly brushed it off and pretended that scary part wasn’t happening in the months leading up to my departure. But standing in that security check line, waving goodbye to my parents and knowing I would be without them for the next five months was a tough blow. But you know what I learned?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (Kelly Clarkson [and about a million people before her])
2.) Comfort Zones are meant to be broken: At first, your study abroad country will seem outside of your comfort zone and you may worry that you’ll never be able to thrive in it. However, attempting to do everyday things in a different language and a different cultural context makes you grow immensely as a person. You probably won’t notice it happening, but throughout your study abroad experience the walls of your comfort zone weaken with every new challenge that (at first makes you queasy, but then) you overcome. Then, if you’re lucky, one day you’ll find that those walls have disappeared and you can start growing in new ways― without the barriers that used to hold you back. Eventually, you might even forget where those walls used to stand and it’s like you can start over as a whole person.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)
3.) Broadening your horizons should be on your bucket list: As surprising as this may sound, back when I was in high school I had no real desire to travel abroad and ‘knew’ that, even if I did some traveling, I would come home to settle in Chicago for the rest of my life. That’s where all of my family is and that was a life I was happy with. Fast-forward a few years and now that is far from a certainty for me. Until I studied abroad, my world had a two-state-wide radius. But, when I arrived in Spain the world was suddenly my oyster. (I seriously apologize for all the clichés, but it’s incredible how true they are!) The moment that you realize that ANYWHERE is just a flight away is a game-changer. You CAN visit different countries, embrace new traditions, and embark on previously unimagined adventures―and for far less that you might think travel needs to cost, I might add! It becomes nearly impossible to repel the travel bug. And those of us already infected start to wonder “Is there really a reason to fight it?”
“There is more to see than could ever be seen, more to do that could ever be done.” (Elton John, Circle of Life)
4.) You are not the center of the universe, but you should be the center of YOUR universe: Studying (and eventually living) in Spain has taught me two polar-opposite things. The first is that the world does not revolve around me and America. There are hundreds of other ‘worlds’ outside your bubble and we do ourselves such a disservice by not taking every opportunity to discover them and at least attempt to understand others. My study abroad experience was also the first time I truly felt like an outsider, limited in my capabilities, and, therefore, vulnerable. It doesn’t sound fun when you put it bluntly like that but trust me, it is so worth it!
Realizing that I have to struggle just like everyone else and create the path for myself was a challenging but freeing study abroad life lesson. Finally, I started to think about the things I really wanted out of my life, not what I had always envisioned because it was what was expected of me. And with that kind of validating―and terrifying!―perspective I started to make choices that put ME at the center of my decisions, my life, my universe.
It may sound counterintuitive that the revelation that the world does not revolve around our country (only slightly-discounted by our science and history books) would lead me to thinking more about myself. However, when your perspectives are suddenly challenged, it rocks your world and leads to a lot of introspection―something that I am so glad happened to me during a time of newness and discovery in Spain.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” (Martin Buber)
5.) Life experience is the best work experience: In the same way that I would argue that going away to college is just as much about learning how to be an adult as it is learning the lessons from your traditional classes, I look at studying abroad the same way. You do not become a better person or a better candidate for future jobs simply because you studied abroad, but you absolutely can APPLY what you learn abroad to make you a better person/candidate. I truly believe we are the results of our experiences, but not in a direct-sum kind of way. What I mean is that we are the people who we are because of what we experienced, what we learned from those experiences, and how we choose to grow from them―of course, with the more difficult experiences tending to have more profound effects.
Studying abroad, therefore, can be so beneficial because it opens you up to new and more challenging experiences. Case-in-point, not only did I have to adapt to a new university in my second-year, but I had to do so in another country; not only did I have to learn to co-habitate with a family that was not my own, but I had to do so in another language. Now, having experiences like those under by belt, the average challenge I’m going to encounter back home seems minor in comparison and I can confidently explain why in an interview.
“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” (Paulo Coelho)
As you can probably tell, studying abroad has been such an impactful adventure for me that it is nearly impossible to put into words all the advantages I believe it has provided. But if you’ve stuck with me to the end of this long-winded letter, hopefully you’ll also notice the passion the topic has instilled in me. While I hold all the above points to be true, I have to admit that the most important things studying abroad has given me are a new sense of purpose and a new path for my passions. I can’t anticipate how those aspects might change for you, but I absolutely support you in your quest to find out and I’m here for whatever questions and concerns come up along the way! Please keep me posted of your thoughts and discoveries in the comments below!