5 Things That Happened to Me When I Studied Abroad
Por Lucy Jones – Rising Senior at University of Notre Dame
Going abroad can be one of the most exciting times of your life. I was bitten by the travel bug on my first trip abroad when I was 16. Fascinated by Spanish food, language, and culture, I ended my summer in Oviedo, Spain thirsty for more. Since then, I’ve traveled or studied in more than 20 countries around the world! While every experience was different in their own way, I´ve found that there seems to be a common denominator among the life lessons that I’ve learned during my travels. Writing from São Paulo, Brazil, I’m here to share with you 5 things that you might not expect to happen when studying or traveling abroad.
- You become a better listener.
Being abroad, especially in a country that doesn’t speak your language, is tough. You have to relearn how to perform your everyday functions and it puts these mundane activities in a new light. How do I ask where the grocery store is? Where is the bathroom? If you don’t speak the language of the country, these tasks are exciting but also challenging. Many times you have to rely on careful observation and listening skills to survive. I´m not talking about simply listening to what another person says to you. This is something we all do back in our home countries and is nothing new. I´m talking about active listening, when you have to fully concentrate and focus on the information that is being communicated. This is something I often take for granted back in the US because understanding others comes as second nature. Abroad, however, is a different story because you are almost fully dependent on your listening skills and other people. Communication is a privilege given to us. When this privilege is taken away, you’re forced to rely on other survival tactics. You learn how to understand and communicate with people through gestures or by interpreting body language or tone of voice. You practice having conversations with the purpose of listening to others, instead of responding to them. Even though you lose your voice abroad, you gain a new set of ears and develop an enlightened understanding of what it means to communicate. Listening more and talking less is always something I strive for back at home but sometimes I fail to actually do it. The beauty of being abroad is that you don’t have the choice.
- You build resilience.
It’s no secret that travelling abroad can be as difficult as it is refreshing. You have culture shock, you are frustrated with the language, you don´t recognize a single face, you feel alone, the list goes on. Especially if the trip is longer than a few months, these challenges can become overwhelmingly intense. However, something that I’ve learned from culture shock and all of the life changes that come with international travel is that, in this discomfort, you build resilience. You learn how to survive when you take yourself out of your comfort zone. Are you going to give up and go home? Are you going to welcome the temporary depression and succumb to your loneliness? Sheryl Sandberg taught me that resilience is a muscle that we need to practice using. In a place that is foreign to you, this muscle is used more than you would think. Behind the sight seeing tours and the joy of trying a new cuisine, you often have to configure and then reconfigure again your new life. It´s in the process of finding a new routine, a new normal, in a foreign country where you build resilience. Some travel experiences are easier than others but at the end of the day, it’s how you deal with the life changes that make you a stronger, and more whole human being.
- You find a new appreciation for where you came from.
While you’re busy navigating through new terrains, you often find a new appreciation for your home. For example, my home town is known for their red brick roads. Growing up, these bumpy streets always annoyed me because it was never a smooth car ride as you drove around town. But after walking through the streets of my neighborhood in São Paulo, I found myself longing for my rusty red brick roads back home. I was growing tired of the uneven concrete in my new environment and found a new appreciation for something that used to, quite frankly, irritate me. I miss the slow-going nature of my small, Midwest town and regular Sunday brunches with my family after going to church. Two things that I never paid much attention to at home became sources of comfort when abroad. The power of looking at the world through a new lens comes from the effect it has on your ability to see world from which you came.
- You learn about who you are.
This one may not come as a surprise, but there is a depth to the statement that I´d like to explore. Before embarking on my journeys around the world, many people warned me about this specific travel effect. The “finding yourself” narrative seems to be everywhere these days, especially when it comes to travel (I´m looking at you, Eat, Pray, Love). There is a sense of romanticism that comes from finding something when you are lost. While I am a hesitant, but firm believer in this platitude, I believe that the personal growth that comes from travel looks a bit different than the picture painted above. Sure, you discover certain character traits about yourself when inserted into a different environment. But more importantly, you find who you are in situations that have nothing to do with change of location, but that often stem from change of location. What I mean is that you learn who you are in certain conditions. Who are you in change? Do you shut down? Do you thrive? Does it scare you? Or, another example, is loneliness, which is common among solo travelers. Who are you in the face of loneliness? Who are you when it’s just you? Travel evokes a lot of self-reflection but it has been these questions that always fascinate me the most. Some travel to learn about other places, but I travel to learn about me.
- You learn about the person you want to be.
With a new country comes a new culture, new habits and customs, and a fresh perspective. Being abroad in São Paulo for 5 months, I’ve learned that Brazilians are warm, but sometimes self-interested when there are no stakes involved, and are generally easy going. For example, Brazilians will hug and kiss you when they meet someone new. In long lines of traffic, Brazilians have no problem cutting people off in order to avoid the wait. They often show up late to events with friends or family and there aren’t any social repercussions. I, however, know myself well enough to know that I am none of these things. I´m not a big fan of touching strangers, I would rather wait 5 hours in traffic than inconvenience someone else, and I´m a stickler about punctuality. But the beauty of being abroad is that you’re given an opportunity to change. What parts of your new world are you going to bring back with you home? What parts of you and your home culture are you going to stick with? After being abroad in Brazil for half a year, I am going to come home (or at least try) as a changed human being. While I am deciding to keep my preference for punctuality, I am going to incorporate Brazilian culture into my life and try to be more relaxed when it comes to things going my way. Traveling abroad provides you with these incredible, but challenging experiences so that you, one day, can become a fully formed human being. I´m not certain I’ll ever achieve this, but I will buy plane ticket after plane ticket to find out.
So there you have it. Five important things that have impacted my life during my travels abroad. For me, travel is unproductive unless it sparks insight about yourself or the world around you. There is so much more that travel can teach me and I´m both excited and a little afraid to see what I find next. Whether it’s in Budapest or Santiago, I know it will be worth it.
Como a Lucy, você também pode estudar fora e aprender com essa experiência única. Quer saber mais sobre como ingressar em programas acadêmicos nos EUA? Visite o www.educationusa.org.br e não deixe de participar da Feira EducationUSA 2017, que trará, no dia 23 de agosto, representantes de várias universidades americanas para São Paulo.