There I was in the airport trying to choke back tears as I looked at my ticket. I cautiously walked up to the gate to board my plane, marched to the back where my seat was located and strapped my seatbelt in. I tried not to think of the dreadful 11 hours I’d spend in the air.
I was on my way to Rome, Italy to spend the next five months studying and traveling. The first thought of studying abroad is how much fun you’re going to have in visiting new places and doing fun things, but no one thinks about how much the experience changes you as a person. Each aspect of studying abroad is a lesson that helps you morph into the best version of yourself.
First, let’s talk about the fact that you have chosen to go to a foreign place that you probably have been dreaming about visiting. This is the place that you get to live and go to school for the next few months. It’s exhilarating but it comes with heaps of challenges. For starters, living on your own in a foreign country. Then, add going to school, adjusting to your surroundings, finding your way around, trying to learn the mother tongue and making friends.
So not only are you living in a foreign country with all these other obstacles presented to you, but you probably don’t know anyone. Luckily, meeting people is the easiest part. There are a ton of other students in the same exact boat as you. They are also in a foreign place and starting a new adventure. You are also probably living with roommates who will quickly become your best friends. It’s almost weird how easy it is to make connections. These people you meet and grow close to help you learn, specifically your roommates, if you get as lucky as I was. You are living with a set of people under some pretty wild circumstances for five months. They change you, probably for the best. They test your patience, push you to your fullest potential and support you through all the craziness. Because of them, you’ll learn more about yourself. The roommates, the friends in class, the locals, you learn to love them all. They are from different parts of the world but somehow you can all come together to find common ground. The differences are what make you come together to teach one another about your way of life.
Life abroad teaches you all about culture. Living in Italy, I experienced Italian culture firsthand and learned how they live happily. You submerse yourself in all that is the culture of the city you are living in. You walk everywhere as they do, you eat pasta daily, and you have a glass of wine with dinner every night for good health. You do not look people on the street directly in the eye or smile at them because that is an open invitation left to the imagination of the other. You dress to the nines for class every day. Italians believe in the phrase “dress for success.” You adapt to the culture and appreciate everything that it is. Not only do you adapt to your host country culture, but you learn about the culture of the other countries you visit. This changes your perception of the world. You become much more open minded. There is so much more that the world has to offer and studying abroad forces you to realize that.
When you come home nothing is quite the same. Reverse culture shock is real and can be upsetting. You miss everything about the brief time you lived abroad. However, all of the sadness about being home is worth it. You realize that you grew in a way that is unexplainable and that you know more about yourself than you did before you left. The most important thing you learn while being abroad is how to love yourself and the person that you are becoming.
So how does studying abroad change you? It changes you by teaching you about life. It changes you through your experiences. It is one of the best decisions you can make in your college career.