Reflections on Study Abroad

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It’s hard to reflect on studying abroad in a concise, understandable way–there’s just too much to say, too many of them things that you won’t understand until you do it yourself.

I’ll start with the most important and obvious part: this has been the best experience of my life. I didn’t have any expectations going in because I knew that I couldn’t possibly have a concept for what it was going to be like until I did, but if I would have had expectations, they would have been surpassed. I can see the differences in myself so much more clearly now that I’m home; I am more direct and confident and optimistic, my priorities are aligned and clear, and the world feels so much smaller.

Some things are specific to my experience, and don’t necessarily apply to everyone who studies abroad. I had a language barrier, with a language that I literally knew one (useless) word in. I cannot emphasize how incredibly strange this feels, how alienating it can be, and how much of an idiot it can make you feel like. You learn to avoid the need to speak to people, you pick up on the cultural mannerisms and behavior, you learn the necessary phrases: what people are going to ask you and where, how to answer, how not to appear lost and confused and stupid. Another important, specific factor: cultural attitude. Czech people, at least in public situations, are not conversational or friendly or welcoming. I have met some of the best individuals, who are warm and kind and talkative, but as a whole, in public, the cultural attitude is individualistic and independent, pessimistic, and very quiet. I learned this quickly, and adjusted my behavior without even realizing it (making eye contact with people in public feels foreign to me now, let alone having conversations with strangers). This actually made it easier for me as someone who didn’t understand Czech–I didn’t need to speak nearly as much as I would have had to in America. The point is: you learn. When you are completely immersed, you learn quickly. And, even though it can be difficult, this is an invaluable experience. I emphatically believe that if everyone experienced this first hand, the world would be a kinder, more tolerant, and more empathetic place. It is without a doubt one of the most fundamentally important and formative things I’ve experienced.

Another amazing aspect of studying abroad is the ability to travel. Personally, I traveled a lot–you could travel less than I did (or more!), or just explore your home country; whatever approach you take, traveling is not just really, really, fun, but makes you better at dealing with problems in life by expanding your perspective. Some problems are urgent, and when they are, you deal with them. Some aren’t. And you still deal with them. But learning how to deal with high stress situations not only equips you to deal with other high stress situations–it gives you the perspective to determine what actually is a high stress situation and what isn’t. Plus, the more sights you see and people you meet and languages you hear and food you eat and ambiances you absorb, the better off you’ll be for the rest of your life.

To sign off what has the potential to be a much longer reflection, I’ll just say this: if you are considering studying abroad, do it. If you are not considering studying abroad, do it. If you’re nervous or scared or hesitant, do it (do not ever make a decision based on fear, especially the decision not to do something). You are stunting your own growth and preventing indescribable amounts of future happiness by staying in the safe lane. I’ve spoken about how much living across an ocean helps you grow and learn, but the most important thing, to me, is how much happiness it brought to my life. If your experience is anything like mine or the dozens of people I’ve spoken to who’ve done the same, you will feel more happiness than you even knew you could feel. It will enrich your life with so much joy that  you won’t even be able to put it into words. So please, please just do it.

(Me, at the beginning)

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(& the end)

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