Top Five: Lessons I Learned Studying Abroad

Takes Notes Outside the Classroom

Built By Girls Top Five (Built By Girls)

When I got off the plane at Charles De Gaulle Airport, I was so excited for my study abroad experience in Paris but little did I know, the most learning I would do would be outside of the classroom. Being in a country where I didn’t speak the language felt like a pop quiz everyday but everyday living experiences in foreign countries were the best teachers I could ever have. I was educated on global perspectives and the challenges of being a foreigner taught me so much about myself. The lessons that I learned while abroad are more valuable and will last longer than any souvenir I could have brought home.

1. Let go and go with the flow

I have always been used to knowing my surroundings and fitting in when I am at home in the US. When I got to Europe I felt like I stuck out like a sore American thumb. Getting used to the cultural differences was extremely difficult for me because for the first time I felt so out of control of my situation and so desperately just wanted to blend in. I was constantly Googling French customs and stressed about doing the wrong thing all the time. It wasn’t until I embraced my not knowing that I was able to enjoy my time in a new country.

I accepted the fact that I was a student of the culture and that it would take time for me to learn and that it was okay to make mistakes. I stopped obsessing over what others thought of me and started to take in the city and the people. Things will be strange, and there will be times you don’t know what you are doing, but it is all part of the process of being a foreigner. When I put my phone down, I was able to take notes from what the locals were doing and learn through my own experiences.

Exchange students open up doors to the world before them.
Exchange students open up doors to the world before them.

2. Get uncomfortable

You might feel dumb, but embrace the fact that you are in a place very different from your home country. It’s tempting when you are homesick in a new city to want to stay in your comfort zone. Instead of taking an Uber, learn the local metro system. Skip McDonald’s, try a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Just because it is different doesn't mean it’s wrong, you may even learn that you like the differences. The reason you chose to study abroad is because you are courageous and want to expand your horizons.

3. Small risks can lead to bigger rewards

On a trip to Capri, Italy, my friends and I were offered to see the Blue Grotto. We were skeptical at first, unsure of whether it was a tourist trap and hesitant to get in a leaky rowboat. The quick decision to get in the boat was probably one of the best decisions I made the entire trip. We went through a small cave opening in the rock and were transported to an otherworldly glowing grotto. This experience was unforgettable and is a great example of you never know what could happen by saying yes.

Simply starting a conversation or going off the beaten path could lead to great experiences. Going abroad is filled with once in a lifetime opportunities but you may have to take some risks to achieve them. Stop trying to predict what could happen and do things even if you don’t know how they’re going to work out. Of course, always use good judgment and don’t put yourself in dangerous situations.

4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

There were so many moments when flights were canceled, the metro was running late, or everyone’s phones were dying, and it felt like everything that could go wrong was going wrong. You will be faced with challenges and be forced to problem solve on your feet. You may be surprised with yourself that you are more brave and creative than you thought in situations like these. Being in a foreign country is full of difficult situations like language barriers or just being a young woman traveling. You will have some of the longest and most challenging days but you will get through it and be stronger for it. Now that I am back in the US, I feel like nothing can stop me because of everything I had to overcome while abroad.

Learning in different countries can open a students mind to different ways to learn and communicate.
Learning in different countries can open a students mind to different ways to learn and communicate.

5. Value the fleeting moments

At the beginning of my four months in Europe, it felt like I had so much time to enjoy my study abroad experience. I quickly realized that weeks were flying by and my semester felt like a blink of an eye. I learned to value every day and every moment while I was there because I knew it would be over sooner than I knew it.

Studying abroad is such a special opportunity to be a student exploring the world while you are young. You will meet people from all over the world and you may never see them again but cherish the time that you do get to spend with them. Embrace the simple pleasures of the country you are in and take in every city you visit. These are once in a lifetime moments because you will never be able to return to that exact time and place ever again.

This article was written by Caroline Kim, a third year at University of California, Santa Barbara. Caroline is double-majoring in communication and dance.

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