I hope that the recount of my personal experience studying abroad inspired you to consider taking the leap (metaphor for jumping off of a cliff into water—do something that’s fun, but scary) yourself.
If you’re not completely convinced, then I will inspire you further now!
Don’t forget to read Part I if you haven’t done so already.
If you’re reading this, then it probably means that you’re open to the idea of studying abroad, but you’d like to know more. Maybe an exchange is an expensive option for you, and you’re not sure that it’s worth it—well I can assure you (tell you with certainty) that it absolutely is!
This article will clarify the following important reasons why you should study abroad:
- Achieve fluency in another language
- Discover a new culture in day to day life
- See a new part of the world
- Engage in adventures, and
- Meet new people who will change your life
Fluency in Another Language
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This is the most obvious reason to study abroad, right? You’ll become completely fluent in your target language, just like a native speaker!
Well I’m sorry to say that this isn’t quite true. But, your English (or whatever language you are studying) will greatly improve.
Depending on how long you study abroad, you will learn much more than had you just studied at a school in your home country, including about a new culture. You will sound more like a native speaker because you’ll be around them all the time. You’ll use more expressions and slang, and your accent will become more natural (although it’s difficult to perfect it).
After one month you will no longer be embarrassed or uncomfortable speaking English, and after a couple more months, you will be able to converse about almost anything, because even though you don’t know some word, you’ll be able to explain it in English and use your skills to find out.
Read more about fluency here.
Discover the New Culture Every Day
Wherever you choose to study, your daily life is going to greatly change. Walking to class every day will feel like a new experience. You’ll be surrounded by another language: both by people speaking it, and seeing it written on shops and street signs.
One of my favorite feelings in the world is when I first get introduced to a new culture. Not fully understanding everything around me, smelling new foods as I pass by restaurants, seeing strange objects for sale in shop windows, viewing the architecture of a new city. It’s confusing, but it’s wonderful, and no other experience can compare to it.
Another awesome thing is all of the new food available to you! I yearn for (miss) German beer and Spätzl (a special pasta dish), Polish Golumpki (meat and rice stuffed cabbage), and Spanish Pulpo a la Gallega (octopus) and Sangria (wine with fruit and juice).
And now after living in Brazil, I can’t imagine a meal without rice, beans, and farinha de mandioca. Like most gringos, I also love Caiparinhas, Guarana, and Açai.
Imagine all of the tasty meals awaiting you on your adventure: you can try Poutine in Canada, a buffalo burger in the American West, Shepherd’s Pie in England, or a roo steak (Kangaroo) in Australia.
You’re going to love and become a part of the new culture you’re immersed in. It’s your opportunity to reinvent yourself in a new lifestyle!
But remember: When in Rome, do as the Romans do (meaning that when you’re traveling or living in a new place to stay open to living like a local and trying new things). Do this, and your eyes will, quite literally, be opened to a whole new world.
See a New Part of the World
This world is full of billions of things to discover, so you better get out there and start experiencing them!
If you study English in the United Kingdom or Ireland, you’ll be given access to all of Europe. One of the awesome things about Europe is that airlines like Ryan Air and EasyJet often offer low air fair between cities (I flew from Palma de Mallorca to Sevilla for less than two Euros, and some friends of mine flew from Alicante to Stockholm for 14 Euros!).
If you join the CouchSurfing community (read more about CS here), this makes for some cheap trips. Go to Paris for a weekend to see the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur; or why not go have some authentic Italian Pizza in Napoli, or see the Coliseum in Rome? Get a tour of a medieval castle in Germany or a brewery and a chocolate factory in Brussels. The great thing about Europe is the wide accessibility between so many countries. All the while you can practice so many types of English; it’s heaven for a polyglot.
If the outdoors are for you, then why not learn how to ski in the U.S.A. or Canada? How about learning to surf in Australia, California or Hawaii? In Colorado, you can check out some of the world’s best hiking trails.
North America is a humungous (very large) continent and it has so much to offer you, from wilderness to fascinating cities like Chicago, New York and Toronto.
Australia and New Zealand are two other amazing places to consider. You’ll feel like you’ve entered another world seeing kangaroos, crocodiles, kiwis, and kookaburra birds. And how about that accent? You’ll sure sound unique if you’ve learned English Down Under (the nickname given to Australia because it’s located in the Southern Hemisphere).
That’s not it for you English learners. Don’t forget about Belize, Ghana, South Africa, Malta, India, Hong Kong, etc. The old expression “the sun never sets on the British Empire” shows how English spread to all corners of the world due to British colonization (known today as the Commonwealth).
You can even consider Holland or the Scandinavian countries where English is a strong second language (there are plenty of English schools in the capital cities).
The world is your oyster (you have many opportunities in your life), so go out there and discover it!
Opportunities for Adventure
In Part I, I told you about a few of the crazy, fun, frightening adventures that I had living in Spain.
I had never done so many wild things in a single year before.
The thing is that when you’re living in a new place, you’re going to be more engaged in travelling and pursuing new experiences than you ever were at home, where after a while everything becomes a normal routine.
Just don’t forget to be open to these new experiences, even if you might have some fears. It’s Now or Never, meaning that you might not have these same opportunities again. Make sure that your time abroad is memorable. Make yourself stories that you’ll tell your grandkids when you’re 80 years old.
This may be the most important part of the study abroad experience. When you are vulnerable, you meet new people. The friends you make abroad will be for life.
Again, remember that being open is ESSENTIAL. If you are, I guarantee you are going to meet new, interesting people and make friends.
Most good exchange programs and language schools will make you a part of a group of study abroad students (like the program that I went with, CIEE, which I described in Part I). Some of your best friends will be your fellow exchange peers, who will be in the exact same situation as you. This gives you a strong common ground (something in common).
When you go abroad, you’ll be unique. You’re a foreigner, a gringo. You’re a little bit different than the large majority of the people in the country. Use this to your advantage and it will be naturally easy to make friends.
I consider myself a friendly, extroverted person. But I am not good a starting a conversation with a person that I’ve never met before. When I live abroad, my accent is an icebreaker (discussion starter).
In Brazil, I get in conversations with strangers in shops and restaurants every day. They hear my accent and ask me where I’m from. Then they ask me about the United States and my experience in Brazil… so one can see how sometimes it’s hard getting them to stop talking!
It’s also important that you learn to not be embarrassed. Most people are going to be happy that you’re learning English and won’t notice or care that you make mistakes—so why should you? You are different, exotic, and you just need to be confident and open enough to transmit that. Be brave. Speak up (don’t talk quietly). You’ll find making new friends abroad much easier than in your home country.
Be friendly and be a good ambassador to your homeland. People will think differently of your country depending on how YOU represent it.
If people have an incorrect stereotype of your country, don’t get mad. Just be happy that they care enough to know something and educate them. You can break people’s stereotypes of your culture (Check out gringo stereotypes of Brazil).
Follow these suggestions and you’ll be sure to make friend who will remember you forever (and hopefully you’ll give them the excuse to travel to visit you!).
Are you ready to turn your world upside-down (change your life drastically)?
Study abroad will do exactly that for you. You’re going to have so many great adventures, meet awesome people, try new things everyday, and become a part of a new culture and community.
Your time abroad will be an era of your life that you’ll always value. And I hope that you, like me, will be enthusiastic to pursue other adventures, even after your program ends.
Are you completely convinced yet? If not, then be sure to check out Part III of How an Exchange Experience Will Change Your Life!
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