Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity that will undoubtedly leave you a different person than you were when you first got there. We asked collegiettes who studied (or are studying) abroad to weigh in on the most important lessons they learned from living in a foreign country. No matter where you go, you’re bound to learn these five lessons after studying abroad. When you return to your home country, you’ll be a smarter, savvier collegiette ready to take on whatever life may throw at you.
1. Flexibility is crucial.
While studying abroad, you never know what will happen, so it’s crucial to go with the flow. “Be open and accepting to wherever life abroad takes you,” says Steph Black, a junior at SUNY New Paltz currently studying abroad in Spain. “Some of the best memories I’ve had so far have been my friends and I getting off at the wrong metro stop by mistake or struggling through a conversation with a random stranger in a completely different language.”
Life always has ups and downs, which is why it’s important to be flexible in all situations. “I lost my phone the first weekend and thought it’d be the end of the world, but honestly, it’s just taught me how addicted I was, and I’ve been able to really soak in a lot more without it,” Steph says.
2. Becoming independent is important.
Studying abroad with a group is typical, so it can be difficult to break away from the clan. However, being independent is key in having the full study-abroad experience.
“The most important thing I learned while studying abroad was to grow independently in a city where I didn't know one person,” says Lindsay Rock, a senior at Marist College who spent a semester in Italy. “I was able to learn another language, understand culture differences and explore my own interests and passions.” By being independent, you’ll open yourself up to so many opportunities you may not have had before.
“Once you are comfortable with your surroundings and feel confident to go out on your own during the day once in a while, do it,” says Megan Sweet, a junior at Michigan State University who’s currently studying in London. “Even if it's just to a coffee shop or for a walk. Exploring a new place also helps you learn a lot about yourself.”
When you’re with a group, it can be easy to get lost in the crowd and follow what everyone else is doing. When you’re on your own, you can explore what interests you have without having to worry about keeping up with the pack.
3. Say yes to everything.
Well, not everything. However, there will be few times in your life where you’ll be presented with the opportunity to live in a foreign country and truly immerse yourself in its culture, so you should definitely take advantage of it. Hannah Orenstein, a senior at New York University who studied in Paris this past spring, says, “Some of my favorite experiences while abroad were things that were never on my study-abroad bucket list, like visiting a city I didn't have much initial interest in and sightseeing at places that didn't appeal to me on paper.” So go for it – you never know what these experiences may bring!
Kasia Jaworski, a senior at Villanova who spent six weeks in Siena, Italy, has a similar outlook. “One of the best things I learned was not to be afraid of being adventurous,” she says. “We would make travel plans on a whim because we felt like it, or even stay an extra day in a city because we wanted to. I hiked on cliffs and went on a super-high chairlift because I knew it was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. I tried new food and sometimes only spoke in Italian. Just don't be afraid to be adventurous and step outside your comfort zone.”
Maddie Schmitz, a senior at Boston College, says, “The things that scare you the most are usually the things that are worth doing. Every time I was pushed to do something scary, it turned out to be an incredible experience!”
4. The world is bigger than you think.
People often say, “It’s a small world,” but is it really? After studying abroad and experiencing an entirely new culture, you’ll realize how many different people and places there are in the world.
Marie Dillulio, a sophomore at Penn State who studied abroad in Italy, says, “The most important lesson I learned while abroad was that other places and cultures are amazing to visit and experience.” With so many different lifestyles and customs, it’s pretty incredible to immerse yourself in something you aren’t used to.
Katherine Varga, a junior at the University of Rochester who spent a semester in Bath, England, learned this lesson while abroad. “Being so far from home and encountering so many different people and cultures made me think about how incomprehensibly huge our world is—how many people have lived on this planet and how many buildings, pieces of art, stories, scientific discoveries, etc., have been contributed,” she says.
Once you’ve witnessed this for yourself, you’ll have a greater appreciation for other cultures as well as your own. It’s easy to get stuck in the bubble of your own experience, but studying abroad teaches you that there’s so much more out there. Bring this wisdom back home, and you’ll find that your perspective will be much more open.
5. Don’t be afraid to make new friends.
Making friends is extremely important no matter where you go, because who wants to be alone all the time? While abroad, befriend the locals for an even stronger cultural and social experience.
“I had a group of Parisian friends while I was abroad, which added so much to my experience,” Hannah says. “They were an invaluable resource for me to practice French, ask questions about the culture and learn about cool spots around the city.”
Studying abroad is a once-in-a lifetime experience that you should make the most of. Take this advice from these collegiettes, and you’re bound to have the time of your life.