A few years ago, I had the dream of studying abroad on my bucket list, but I thought it was just that – a dream. I wanted to immerse myself in a different culture, but I knew that dreaming versus actually living it out is two totally different things. I knew that no one was going to help my dreams come true, unless I took the initial step towards them. This led me to the day I decided that I was not only going to study abroad, but I was also going to go on an international mission trip (more to come on this!)
I had no plan, I had no budget and I barely had any savings as a poor, college kid. I ended up going to the study abroad office and grabbing some material on the upcoming trips and found out that they had more options than I ever knew about. I decided that a semester long trip was a bit too long for me so I settled on a 2 week excursion to Paris and London. While I am in love with different cultures and exotic places, I figured these two miraculous cities were a great start to international traveling, which I had never done before. Before even leaving the United States, my “class” met every week to complete coursework and to learn about the countries we would be visiting. Therefore, no coursework during the trip was involved!
Only a few months later, in the Spring of 2010, my small class and I were off on a plane to the UK for an experience of a lifetime. I was a mixed bag of emotions, I was excited and I knew a few other people going, but I was nervous as well. I didn’t own a smart phone with a SIM card, I didn’t have any clue how to speak French and all I had was American money, etc. Needless to say, it was a life-changing experience - and I learned a lot. I think I learned as much about myself as I did about the UK and France. I believe that it's extremely important to follow your dreams and I wanted to create this post to let you know why you should study abroad!
|Harass British Guard - Check!|
Make a Dream Your Reality
Like I mentioned, it was always my dream to study abroad, but I never thought it was a possibility. The problem wasn't that I wasn't able to, the problem was that I never looked into it or even tried. This time in your life, as a student, may be your only chance to live abroad for any period of time. Most traditional students don't have kids, full-time jobs, many bills (yet) or anyone else to depend on them. Once you graduate, welcome to the real world! Hopefully you'll find a"grown-up job" and along with that comes the grown-up bills and responsibilities. You're young and free now – make your dream a reality!
|London mall, trying on hats!|
Little did I know that scholarships existed that I could utilize. The scholarship I applied for only needed an application and short essay, no FAFSA or interviewing required. While the scholarship I got was not large, $300 was better than nothing - especially when you have no money! By the time I heard about this scholarship, the application and essays were past due, but I tried anyway. Even without turning in the required essay, I still got some money! To get more money, obviously you need to be more prepared than I was. Don't just search for scholarships from your university, but also look online.
|The ladies from class at group dinner in Paris|
Saves Money in Big Picture
Studying abroad for a semester long can actually save you money versus vacationing for an extended period of time. Longer visits allow you to stay in the dorms or with a host family, which drastically cuts down costs that you'd be spending on hotels, hostels, restaurants, etc.
|Arc De Triomphe, Paris|
|Garden at the Palace of Versailles, Paris|
Experience Other Cultures
No matter how many museums you see, books you read and websites you visit about another country, you will never have the same experience as you would in person. I was actually able to see Stonehenge and Roman Bath in person, visit the Palace of Versailles and walk through the French catacombs with thousands of skulls. Or something as silly as stepping in an old British phone booth and riding the double decker.
|Random order on a French menu. Seriously, YUM!|
The longer you stay in a particular country or region, the more authentic your experience will become. You get past the cheap junk tourist shops, americanized versions of ethnic food and you get to know the natives on a deeper level. You will get to know what real "Chinese," "French," "German," etc. food actually tastes like, you will be able to find original hand-crafted trinkets and maybe even pick up on the language.
|Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris|
|La Defense District|
Learn a New Language
When I first started looking for places to study abroad I wanted to go somewhere that would improve my Spanish. Living in another country for any period of time allows you to pick up on the language much faster than studying from a book! Why? Because you literally have no choice to speak English if no one knows it! You will also learn how the locals speak (slang), proper sentence structure, etc.
|Palace of Versailles|
|Elizabeth Tower AKA Big Ben|
Visit Historic Sites & Beautiful Views
Like I mentioned, experiencing something in real life is way better than merely seeing it online. The wonderful experience of not only seeing the Eiffel Tower, but going up in it and seeing the beautiful view of Paris from the tower. I would suggest to see historic sites, but also just appreciate the area you're in. The beauty of the markets, unfamiliar street signs and wildlife. When you go to visit famous landmarks and buildings, try different modes of transportation. Try the subway, taxi, ferry, double-decker bus, light-rail, boat or even walking there. It's important to see the city from different perspectives, for instance one of my favorite memories was taking a Seine River Cruise in France – we saw a whole different view of the city!
|View from on top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris!|
Learn to Adapt
As a girl from a small town in the Midwest, I can tell you that Studying Abroad taught me how to adapt more than anything else ever has. While most of the trip was smooth sailing, I'm not gonna lie, at some points I was uncomfortable, anxious or even scared.
A few adaptation things I either learned or practiced while overseas:
A few adaptation things I either learned or practiced while overseas:
- How to communicate without knowing the language
- How to best protect yourself from theft
- How to use a different currency
- How to exchange currency
- Who to trust, travel with and cut ties from
- How to navigate a subway system, airport, busses
- How to be completely on your own, thousands of miles away from family/friends
- How to pack for international trips (less is more)
- Learn the art of bargaining
- Many more!
Learn More About Yourself
One unexpected bonus about studying abroad is that you will learn so much about yourself. I realized how much my boyfriend meant to me (we're married now – YAY!), I also learned a lot about a friendship (cut ties), how much I hated clubs (went to Ministry of Sound) and how much I loved traveling.
|Roman Bath in Bath, UK|
Looks Great on a Resume
In today's world, diversity is extremely important. Having the study abroad experience on your resume will tell a potential employer that you have diverse cultural experiences (huge in customer service/relations), you can adapt and are potentially flexible to traveling/moving, potential language skills, etc. Personally I think that it shows you're open to new things, adventure and a heightened level of maturity.
|Eiffel Tower, Paris|
It's Fun, Great Memories & Stories
Studying abroad can be awesome for meeting new friends, whether you travel in a group with them, stay with them or meet them at your new international university. I think that 1/3 of my memories are about the people I met/traveled with, 1/3 about all of the places I visited and things I learned and 1/3 about all of the funny or ridiculous things that happened while traveling!
A few final suggestions:
- Try new authentic foods. Try ordering off a menu and not knowing the language, that was fun.
- Interact with the locals. The front desk guy at our UK hostel was the coolest! He gave us great travel suggestions told us about the local hot spots.
-Purchase quality things to bring back. Personally, I decided to spend money on things that would last for a long time. While I did not have a lot of money, I budgeted and was able to bring back some awesome things. Some of which are now my favorite possessions. I did not simply blow my money on a million tourist trinkets, expensive drinks or things that I could eat/see/do in America.
Now mark this off your bucket list and get to your college's study abroad office for some information!