Some people view studying abroad as taking the easy route in school and beating the system of long nights in the library and days full of stress. While this may be accurate, studying abroad is way more than partying, eating, and having a fourth month vacation. I have learned way more about life skills, communication, and relationships than I have in a 500 person class back at my University. Again, while some people think these skills aren’t as important as math or science, I now feel like I am prepared to tackle any surprising situation I come across when encountering someone I don’t know. So, here are the five important things I learned while studying abroad.
The first time I ever travelled to Europe was when I came to study abroad. I didn’t have any expectations of what Spain would be like, or any other country for that matter, because I didn’t know too much about the EU overall. Not going to lie, at first I hated being here and it took awhile to fully adjust. I didn’t like using outlet converters, doing my laundry outside without a dryer, manually lighting the kitchen stove, paying for plastic bags and shopping carts at the supermarket, or paying for water at every single meal. This was not anything I was used to. So as I’ve learned, I experienced culture shock and it was completely normal. It was crazy of me to expect the same life here as I do in the United States, but now I understand the different lifestyles and I am so happy I got to experience the challenging change and adjustment. Lesson learned: culture shock will happen in any foreign place. You have to accept the changes and adjust yourself to a different level of comfort, even if it’s difficult. There are millions of people in the world who live differently than you; embrace a new and temporary lifestyle while you can, no matter how hard it may seem.
Ever since kindergarden, I took classes in Spanish all the way up until my second year in college. Part of the reason I chose to study abroad in Spain was because I was mildly familiar with the language and figured that if I knew a few key words, it would be easier for me to find my way around and communicate with others. However, this was much harder than I thought. Coming into Spain, the locals expect you to speak their language; why wouldn’t they since I am in their country and homeland? There were definitely times when it was more challenging than others because I would have to use my translator app when a certain languages were extremely unfamiliar. Lesson learned: learn as much of the language as you can, it will make your experience in a foreign country a lot easier.
3. International Knowledge
After mutiple guided tours, museums, hikes, and cuisines, I have learned a great deal about different cultures and traditions from all the places I have been to. Of course, I have immersed myself the most in Spain but I also have a high appreciation for Italy. International knowledge is one of the things I am most excited to bring back home because I will incorporate my real life experiences into conversations like I never have before and people will be able to learn from me and hopefully want to travel. Lesson learned: respect other cultures and traditions and take in all the differences.
4. Independence and Responsibility
At home, I am used to knowing how to do the basic things alone such as cleaning, cooking, food shopping, driving, and working. However, abroad gave independence an entire new meaning to me. If I ever had a problem or got sick, which happened multiple times, my mom wasn’t there to help me right away. There is literally nothing she could have done or do when she is halfway across the world. Being in an unfamiliar territory, food shopping was SO difficult at first because I didn’t understand the labels, reasonable prices, or how to cook a lot of what they offered in the markets. While I can’t drive in Europe, it was up to me to mavigate myself around different cities to get where I wanted to go. Lastly, booking weekend trips was what taught me the most. I learned how to be responsible with budgeting money and had to plan everything out on my own that would be the most time efficient and cost worthy. Lesson learned: abroad is a lot of fun when you get to travel the world for four months, but behind all of that comes money, planning, time, and thinking. You are the only one that can help yourself to have the best time.
5. Analytical Skills
Being abroad is all about new fun and experiences. I have come across a lot of situations where I didn’t know what to do and had to think fast. My phone doesn’t always have WIFI and I can’t call people without being charged. It definitely took time to get used to figuring out how to make what I think are the right decisions, but I would say I did a pretty good job at finding my way and getting answers I needed. Lesson learned: always have a back up plan with everything you do and do your research before you go anywhere just incase your phone stops working.
Thank you abroad for giving me the life skills I never thought I would have at my age.