I recently spent 5 months in Spain studying at Suffolk University’s Madrid campus, and I can’t stop talking about it. Study abroad programs have become more prevalent in America, being offered and encouraged by many college/university programs (and through some high schools). These programs are great because they allow you to experience different cultures and parts of the world. Learning about other cultures can change the way you see your world too, by opening up new ways of living and experiencing life.
As I said, I went to Spain, which wasn’t one of the countries I originally told myself I wanted to visit. In fact, I never thought about visiting Spain, even when I would plan imaginary vacations to Europe in my head. After all was said and done though, I’m extremely glad I traveled there. Spain has such a great mix of cultures (European and Arabian), and a great view on life.
There is something about going abroad for an extended period of time that really does change the way you act and the interactions you have. When you go away and no longer have the comforts of friends and family, you begin to form new, really great, unique friendships. The friends I met abroad became my “family” extremely quickly, and I still think of them that way. I live with two of them now, and they are like my brothers. The friends I made abroad got me through any bit of homesickness I experienced, and also helped make my experience as amazing as it was. It was also interesting to find out what similarities between people of the same age in different cultures have. My four closest friends were from France, Germany, and Colombia, and we all grew up playing the same video games, sports, and even card games. It is really fun to see how similar (and different) we all are.
While studying abroad, another thing to be conscious of is the culture you are visiting. It’s important to learn as much as you can before you get there. This will help you immerse yourself in their ways, and allow you to enjoy life as they do. It also helps avoid insulting your host culture. Another tip; try the food! People wouldn’t eat something if they didn’t think it was good. Be open-minded!
Lastly, also understand that you may be exposed to things/situations that you may not have experienced in the US. For instance, alcohol is extremely easy to access in many places across Europe. Be aware, and don’t go overboard. On another note, Europe has a problem with pickpockets (much more so than the US), so but keep your valuables protected at all times. Guys – don’t put anything in your back pockets; always use your front pants pocket. Ladies, always keep tabs on your purse.
In short, if given the opportunity to travel abroad, take it! It will change you forever, as it did me, and everyone I’ve talked to that has done it. For most of us, having the chance to study abroad something that we can only do when we’re young, and remember, you’re only young once!