First of all, we just want to say that the fact that you are even considering studying abroad excites us! We’re definitely biased―seeing as studying abroad and living abroad in Spain has changed the course of our entire lives―but we still think this is one of the most exciting and transformative choices you may make. Long-term life abroad isn’t for everyone but studying abroad for even a short time will set you up to gain important life skills and amazing memories from your international exploration.
Naturally, everyone’s experience is different. However, here are some of the things that we’ve found to be true and that we hope will convince you that studying abroad is, in fact, a very valuable experience.
1.) Leaving home is scary:
It can be scary moving just two hours from home! Thus, the idea of moving to a different country―where you know NO ONE and you may only be moderately comfortable with the language is enough to scare off a lot of people. Still, that’s one of the reasons to do it! Over the years, we’ve found that the most beautiful and important things in life are those that envoke excitement with a side of fear.
In Dani’s case, she mostly brushed this fear aside and pretended that scary part wasn’t happening in the months leading up to her departure. Standing in that security check line, though, waving goodbye to her parents and knowing she would be without them for the next five months was a tough blow. But you know what it eventually taught her?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (Kelly Clarkson [and about a million people before her])
2.) Comfort Zones are meant to be Tested:
At first, your study abroad country will seem completely outside of your comfort zone and you may worry that you’ll never be able to thrive in it. This is completely normal, especially if this is your first time abroad. However, attempting to do everyday things in a different cultural context and, likely, a different language 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.
Like everything in life, pushing the limits of your comfort zone is a process and we’re not saying that you will completely break down all the barriers of this zone in just a few months living abroad. If you allow yourself, though, you can push back those walls, little by little, until your comfort zone grows to include things you never would have imagined. If you’re able to push back long enough, you may eventually feel like there are no longer any barriers at all to hold you back. This ability to feel undeterred by fears can be incredibly freeing.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)
3.) Broadening your horizons should be on your bucket list:
Perhaps you feel content and at peace with living the rest of your life where you currently call home. Dani certainly was! Before studying abroad, she had no innate desire to travel the world and believed that, even if she did some traveling, she would always come home to settle in Chicago. It was a life she was happy with, even if her everyday world existed only about a two-state radius. Arriving in Spain changed her menatality forever. That’s not to say that life in Spain is better than life in Chicago! Simply that, after experiencing a different way of life, Dani was more curious, her long-held beliefs suddenly negotiable.
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, we 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 us two polar-opposite things. The first is that the world does not revolve around us and America. This may seem obvious when stated, but it’s actually a belief many of us unconsciously hold, at least if we were brought up in the good old USA. There are hundreds of other ‘worlds’ outside our bubble and we do ourselves such a disservice by not taking every opportunity to discover them and at least attempt to understand others.
For many of us, studying abroad could be the first time we truly feel like an outsider, limited in our capabilities to understand and communicate, and, therefore, vulnerable. It doesn’t sound fun when you put it bluntly like that but trust us, it is so worth it!
Realizing that we have to struggle just like everyone else and create the path for oursvelves is a challenging but freeing life lesson. Finally, you start to think about the things you really want out of you life, not what you had always envisioned because it was what was expected of you. And with that kind of validating―and terrifying!―perspective we can begin to make choices that put YOU at the center of your decisions, your life, your universe.
It may sound counterintuitive that the revelation that the world does not revolve around our country (only slightly-discounted by our rhetoric and history books) would lead us to thinking more about myself. However, studying abroad has a way of challenging ALL your perspectives so don’t be surprised if it leads you to some deep introspection and unexpected realizations.
“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 we 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, we 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. WE truly believe we are the results of our experiences, but not in a direct-sum kind of way. That’s to say 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-points: not will you have to adapt to a new university in the middle of your college experience, but you have to do so in another country. Not only will you have to learn to co-habitate with a family that is not your own, but you will have to do so in another language. When you return, having experiences like those under your belt, the average challenge you’re going to encounter back home seems minor in comparison and you can confidently explain why in an interview.
“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” (Paulo Coelho)
As you can probably tell, we believe studying abroad to be such an impactful adventure that it is nearly impossible to put into words all the advantages it can provide. If you’ve stuck with us to the end, though, we’re confident you’ve noticed the passion the topic has instilled in us.
While we hold all the above points to be true, Dani must also admit that the most important things studying abroad has given to her are a new sense of purpose and a new path for her passions. We can’t anticipate how those aspects might change for you, but we absolutely support you in your quest to find out and we’re here for whatever questions and concerns come up along the way! Please keep us posted of your thoughts and discoveries in the comments below and don’t hesitate to reach out about a coaching call if you’d like to talk it through!