We have expectations of how life is supposed to play out. When we make choices similar to those people around us, we assume that things like our educational experience will look like their’s too. For many people, studying abroad is one of those things that they want to tick off their lists—it is something they do because someone else told them to do it. But why is there so much hype about studying abroad? And why do people push the idea that studying abroad made a big difference in their lives, both personally and professionally? In this article we want to jump into three top personal reasons for why you should consider studying abroad.
Please note that you can find our article about why you should study abroad here, the one about the benefits of studying abroad in the workplace here, and the one about the benefits of cultural competence here. Today, we want to focus on how study abroad can benefit your personal growth.
You learn a lot about yourself
Although it may seem strange, there is something about leaving home that teaches you a lot about yourself as a person (and as a friend, brother, daughter, partner, etc.). In fact, we would argue that you are certain to learn some important things about yourself—even if it is what you don’t like—during your abroad experience. In fact, being away from friends and family often means that you are able to leave expectations about who you ‘should be’ behind as well.
This is great because while you are abroad, you will probably feel more free to discover the person you want to be. At the very least, this experience will teach you a bit about independence and self-reliance. In addition, we would guess that you will gain some confidence as well—when you see that you can do it, you will be boosted to try more things.
And don’t be afraid of the bad things that will come your way. Even when they are hard things to deal with (like a difficult host family or teachers who don’t understand you), these life situations will teach you how to persevere. So, whether you come across positive or negative experiences, you can be sure that you will be able to learn from them and apply this learning to the person you are today and the person you want to be tomorrow.
You learn how to deal with problems
In the workplace, seeing if potential recruits are able to deal with difficult or problematic situations is becoming more popular. However, problem solving skills are relevant to everyday life too and having to do things like get a personal identity number (NIE or número de identificación extranjero) or open a bank account abroad in Spain will help you develop for when you are back home as well.
Think about it—if you can manage to do something like getting your haircut in Spanish (see our guide here), imagine how much easier it is when you understand the language and culture around you in your home country. Even if you have to ask for help, it is incredibly empowering to do something successfully in another country and this feeling will transfer to how capable you feel when back home. Just remember, you don’t have to succeed with everything, sometimes failure is the best teacher.
Personal story: When Claudia first started her degree in Spain (read more here), she was so nervous that her little brother accompanied her to class. She has now become more comfortable with this kind of situations and has happily acted as a ‘guide’ for other foreign students.
You learn about other people too
Perhaps one of the most important things you will learn is that you and your way of living life is not the only way to do things. We dedicated a whole series of articles to what cultural competence is (see the first one here), but at the end of the day, the basics are: just because you are right, it doesn’t mean they are wrong.
This means that you will find yourself in situations where people talk, study, and interact in ways that you are not expecting. It will most likely make you feel uncomfortable at first but, eventually, should help you understand that there is more than one way to live life. It doesn’t mean that you have to convert or even like what the other’s teach you; however, you should try to accept and respect the diversity that exists in the world.
If you manage to do this, you are setting yourself up to create some lifelong international friendships (one of our favorite things). Making friends isn’t easy—in fact, we’ve talked about it several times, such as this article, on the blog it is so hard. At the same time, good friends are incredibly rewarding and if you can find someone who understands you in another language, you have likely found someone that will be your friend for life.
We are obviously biased in this subject as we love the idea of going abroad and think that everyone should give it a try if they can. In spite of this, if you asked us, we would tell you that “going as far away as possible” is not necessarily going to give you all these insights. In fact, you might find that going somewhere closer to home (or speaks the same language) is just as beneficial as packing up to study halfway around the world. Therefore, remember that every person’s cultural experience is unique to him or her and you should honor what feels right to you.
Share your abroad experiences with us in the comments below!