I’ve really missed blogging, so I thought I would write some stuff about study abroad in general. A lot of students and parents hesitate at the idea because it’s out of their comfort zone, but one of the beautiful things about study abroad is that if you go at it with an open mind, it’s not just a continuous time of awkwardness; it can actually expand your comfort zone.
Friendships: During study abroad, you meet all kinds of amazing people from both your home and host countries. Your host family, teachers, and friends become an integral part of your life during your time abroad, and can even remain in your life after you’ve returned home. With email, instant message, video chat, and international calling/texting plans, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch, no matter where your friends are! Also, okay, what better way to get to know people than exploring a foreign country together? You share so many unique experiences, create memorable stories, and discover new inside jokes that nobody else could ever understand. Finally, by studying abroad, you become part of the broader and ever-growing community of exchange and international students, a great group to be a part of.
New Language: Business, politics, and society are going global. Proficiency in two or more languages looks extremely attractive to employers. The best way to learn a new language is immersion, which you can’t experience without going abroad. When you go abroad, you are forced to speak and understand a totally new language or refine your skills in a language you already study. Even if your study abroad is in a country where they speak your native language (i.e. an American studying in Great Britain), there are still dialectical and accent differences that you must learn to understand and may even pick up yourself. Understanding foreign languages and dialects is not only important for the job market but also for participation in society. Linguistic backgrounds are the root of many negative stereotypes that can be phased out the more people increase their understanding of each other’s languages.
Self-discovery: It’s a little cliche but definitely true. Most study abroad programs provide their students with the support and supervision of teachers and host families while also allowing them a lot of freedom to explore on their own. You’re removed from your comfort zone — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot — and you begin to learn a lot about yourself. You discover new interests and how much you can depend on yourself. Without your regular parents and other adults around, you learn to police yourself, take responsibility, and navigate your city and experiences on your own. You make mistakes; there are always mistakes! But you learn from them and learn a lot about yourself in the process.
Deeper Understanding: When you spend time in a foreign country, you realize how similar we all are as humans. Though many of the details may be different, the fundamentals of what people enjoy really are the same all over the world! If you think, for example, “Hmm, Chinese opera, not a big fan,” that’s okay! But when you consider it, Chinese opera is just a style of music; everyone likes music! Some Chinese people probably dislike it just like some Americans dislike jazz. But in the end, it’s music. All humans have the same basic interests and desires, no matter where they live, and the longer you’re abroad, the more of them you can identify, despite differences. You also gain a deeper understanding of the specific culture you live in abroad; you get the opportunity to learn what makes that culture tick, and when you come home, you can share your new knowledge with your community to help give others a new understanding, too. You can debunk or clarify a lot of stereotypes that way.
International Perspectives: When you’ve never left your home country, it’s often really hard to grasp that there are 7 billion other people in the world, in other time zones, in other countries. When you’re a teenager or young adult in America, it’s often really hard to imagine life without Facebook or Youtube, which don’t exist in some countries. And, though you may learn about other governmental systems and international events in school, it’s often difficult to understand them until you’ve experienced them or been in the place where they happened. But, when you go abroad, you better learn how the world interacts culturally and politically. You become part of the society in a foreign country, exposing you to how the PEOPLE think and act, not just what any government or media outlet wants you to know. It helps you start to see for yourself what goes on in the world.