The best experience in my life was studying abroad for a semester in Florence. After 5 months, I had become familiar with the Italian culture and had visited 9 other countries during my stay. My last day in Florence was bittersweet, sitting on Piazza Michelangelo knowing I would be leaving all of this and going back to my old life. Although, I hadn’t anticipated the ways study abroad changes you, there was no going back to my old life.
Whenever someone asks me if they should study abroad, I tell them the answer is obvious: yes. If they could make it a requirement, I would be all for it. If you’re planning a study abroad, or are even on the fence about studying abroad, I’m excited for you! In order to prepare you, here are 5 unexpected ways study abroad changes you:
1. You experience a new culture.
During my study abroad, I had a specific grocery store I would walk to weekly. There was a cafe I would get a latte at every morning and I would always study with my friends in the Bobli Gardens after school. Study abroad is more than just a travel experience, it’s new way of life.
When you live in a different country, you get an authentic experience of their culture. There were days I would walk home by myself down streets that Michelangelo had walked and get lost in the moment. Whenever people would stop and ask me for directions, I would feel like a true local.
2. You become more independent.
I was 20 when I went abroad and it was my first time flying by myself (My second time flying ever). All of my roommates were random students from the university. There was a language barrier I had to overcome for things even as small as a postage stamp. On day one, I was already starting to learn the ways study abroad changes you.
Study abroad teaches you to be self-sufficient and to put yourself out there. You’re not afraid to meet new people, try different types of food, or to visit a place you’ve never been without a map. The situation has set you up to be an independent person that’s a problem solver. Even if you wind up lost in a city where you don’t speak the language.
3. You gain lasting friendships.
The people you study abroad with share something with you that’s hard to find in others. Although, as you get older, you will start to find yourself forming bonds with people over their travel experiences. I didn’t become friends only with my roommates, but I met classmates from all over the United States and Europe. I also met countless people on every adventure I went on.
Now we keep up through our Facebook/Instagram feeds and Snapchat stories. We still call each other up and plan trips together (None of my study abroad friends live in the same state as me). Although we’re not local or best friends, we still have this amazing experience connecting us that keeps us together.
4. Your mind is opened.
I'm from a small town in the middle of America. It's where I learned values and had experiences that shaped my view of the world. After traveling abroad, my viewpoint broadened. I learned AMAZING things about other countries and gained an understanding for other ways of life.
Studying abroad allows you to understand that there isn't a country ranking scale. Rather there are a bunch of awesome countries that each have their own unique qualities to love. This allows you to form your social and political views on a global level.
5. You want to travel ALL the time.
Some people call it being bit by the travel bug. After you go once, you want to travel again and again. When your vacation ends, you start planning the next to calm the restlessness. To cut on travel costs, I stay at an Airbnb (Read the tips for things to know before booking one) and find cheap airfare. Check out my article on traveling in the off season for more budget tips to feed your travel needs.
If you're on the fence on whether to go, DO IT! Studying abroad is a life changing experience that you won't regret. It's also the easiest way to see a good portion of the world in a small amount of time (I'm lucky to see 1 other country a year now, when I saw NINE in 5 short months). Talk with your adviser about finding the best school and program for you. If you would like more college tips, check out my article on tips to be successful in college.