Hindsight is 20/20: I wasn’t always as excited as I am now to talk about studying abroad. As a freshman in college, I knew that I wanted to travel and expand my horizons, but I wasn’t sure if that meant an entire semester away from home. I wasn’t too nervous until I found out I was the only student from my school studying abroad in Alicante, Spain -- would I meet any friends? Could I travel across the world by myself? Do I have enough money to support myself? Whatever your concerns may be, if you’re on the fence about studying abroad, here’s why you should:
While there are plenty of people to help you along the way, studying abroad is ultimately your own decision. Before you even get on a plane, you’re making decisions for yourself by choosing when, where, and why you want to go. College is all about deciding what you want to do with your education, and this is one of the many choices you will make in your student career.
After arriving, you’ll quickly realize a lot about yourself that you didn’t know before. For example, I'm a creature of habit and love to plan and organize; however, some of the best discoveries I made while traveling abroad occurred when I didn’t have an exact plan or itinerary. This discovery helped me thrive traveling both with friends and by myself. I brought this trait back home with me, too -- I have learned that you can’t control every situation, but you can control how you react and what you do about it.
|My solo trip to London|
2. Intercultural Communication
If you want to study abroad to practice your foreign language skills, then do it! Authentic practice comes from immersing yourself in different situations in a new culture. I don’t want to say that you’ll immediately be a language expert when you go abroad; you may feel uncomfortable or vulnerable about communicating with locals for the first time. I found comfort in the smiling faces of Spaniards who appreciated my attempts to communicate in their language. There’s no better feeling than finally practicing what you have learned, whether it be learning your coffee order or having a full conversation with someone.
|A wine barrel in Alicante, Spain: I spy several languages all in one place!|
More important than practicing a second language, however, is the idea of intercultural communication. For those of you who want to study in an English-speaking country, you would practice this skill every day. Even if we share the same language with someone, we all differ in our values, beliefs, ideas, and goals. Our culture shapes how we communicate, and living abroad allowed me to interact with individuals from around the world. After six months of living in America again, I have a newfound appreciation for living in a city as diverse as Chicago because I had the chance to communicate interculturally in Spain.
One of the most positive attributes of studying abroad actually occurred once I returned home. I could meet a stranger who has nothing in common with me except for the fact that they studied abroad while in college; this usually turns into a long and wonderful conversation about travel, language, and life abroad. In a professional context, I have interviewed for a multitude of internships where this exact conversation occurs. Talking about living abroad eases my nerves because of my authentic experience and ability to translate four months of intercultural communication as a transferable skill.
As an Alumni Ambassador for CEA, I had the opportunity to attend at Lessons from Abroad Conference in Chicago this past February. I met so many amazing people, from post-study-abroad students to travel junkies to advocates for international education. Studying abroad will give you access to an entire network of professionals who loved their time abroad and believe in its transformative experience. No matter the program length, focus, or destination, studying abroad is a common factor that unites us and creates opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Cate Lewellyn is the Fall 2018 Alumni Ambassador in Alicante, Spain, and is currently studying at Illinois State University.