Like many people, my educational experience lacked passion and direction. I am a very visual, creative, and interactive leaner – standardized testing and lecture halls just aren’t my cup of tea. During my junior year of college I was inspired to sign up for a 2 week trip to Quito, Ecuador. I had no idea how much that experience would change my life. After living in a traditional Ecuadorian household, hiking volcanoes, swimming in thermal springs and Amazonian waterfalls, and eating tropical fruits picked in the wild – it was impossible to return to the closed-minded box my friends and family lived in. Exposure to different cultures, terrains, and lifestyles expands a person’s mind in such a way that it can never be reversed. I participated in several study abroad programs throughout college, and went backpacking the summer after graduation.
Completing part of a collegiate education overseas is a fairly new and uncommon concept. I’m the only person I know that has experience with these types of programs, so I can understand how it can be scary for parents and students. However, I’ve been through it, and believe it should be a required part of your college education. According to The White House, study abroad programs are “a critical component to deepening and broadening relationships with citizens overseas.” Studying abroad is in the best interest of the student, their university, and country. I’ve listed 8 important things people don’t tell you about studying abroad that might convince you to take that leap of faith:
1. Bring snacks, please, for Heaven’s sake…
I thought I’d start this article by emphasizing the importance of carrying a travel snack at all times. Studying abroad is more or less, backpacking, which means you won’t have any touristic amenities. My favorite part of studying abroad is the spontaneity of it all – which is hard to enjoy when you’re malnourished. Here you can find one of my favorite travel snacks that’ll energize and fill you up. You can make them anywhere, with pretty much anything, in about 10 minutes.
2. Studying Abroad is a lot like living with your in-laws
After I got married I lived at my mother-in-law’s for 8 months. I dated my hubby for 7 years prior to getting married, and we basically grew up together. After several months of living with my in-laws, I thought of them differently.
I went through a similar situation with roommates. The roommates I fit best with were the ones I least looked forward to living with – I clashed with “dance team girls” and “old friends,” while loved my foreign exchange roommate from China. After studying abroad, I came to the conclusion that it’s nearly impossible to understand someone (or a culture) without living with them. Living with a host family gives you the opportunity to experience the most authentic form of a culture. The unfamiliarity of living with new people is pretty much the same in your home country as it would be overseas.
3. Chocolate & Coffee Taste Different
There are a lot of good things on this list, but this may just be my favorite! Have you heard about my upcoming vegan chocolate lovers cookbook?! Everywhere you travel will have a different take on coffee and chocolate. Some cultures value the cacao and coffee bean flavors, while others focus on adding loads of sugar, or food/drink pairings.
I was completely confused by German chocolate and their obsession with the nougat. It’s nothing like what we have in the US, but it’s delicious. I’m biased because I already LOVE chocolate and coffee, however, if you dislike either, I would suggest trying them both overseas!
Every culture I’ve experienced has had a different take on cleanliness. Some keep their homes extremely tidy, but shower once a week. Others only see value in aged, untouched, dusty, and decrepit things. I used to judge people that ate food that had fallen on the floor, people that didn’t Germex before a meal, people that didn’t shower daily, and people that drank after others.
However, for some cultures, clutter is dirty. For others, man-made chemicals are dirty. In parts of the world bugs and rodents make us squeamish, in other parts people embrace them as pets – and in some places we even eat them.
5. Being born a US citizen is like winning the lottery
The US has its flaws FOR SURE, but there isn’t an easier place in the world to get things done. It makes so much sense why immigrants come to America with dreams of a better life. There are countless rags to riches stories, and old money doesn’t really exist (as our country is only 239-ish years old). In other countries, there are very few 24-hour supermarkets, and established rules are enforced without waver. All of the major celebrities live and work in the US, and internationally known companies like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and McDonalds are US companies. The US is a powerhouse of a country, and those who realize the opportunity they’ve been afforded as a US citizen in this day in age, should take full advantage of every opportunity.
6. Trans-Continental Flights are a Betch!
I throw up EVERY time I travel across the Atlantic. I have no idea why but I’m going to guess it has something to do with velocity. Regardless, I make sure to eat, hydrate properly, use the bathroom regularly, and sleep ALOT on the flight. I wish I could time warp to my destination, but until that’s an option, I’ll just be thanking the gods for barf bags!
“I was so glad I brought that extra suitcase full of clothes” said no one ever. It’s impossible to prepare for some of the situations you’ll encounter while traveling, so when in doubt, under-pack. Once I was traveling alone, with NO French-language skills, and a 70 lb duffle bag that wouldn’t fit on the train in Paris. I had to unpack several items and carry them in my hands, while hoping someone would help me on/off the train without robbing me. There were also no elevators in the Parisian subway system so I had to carry everything up 10-20 flights of stairs. Eventually my suitcase broke, Thank God! At that point I didn’t mind leaving some of my clothes and shoes behind!
8. The US is comparatively insignificant & unsophisticated
By modern World History standards, Rome is 2042 years old, Ethiopia is 2995, and Egypt is approx. 5015 years old. Japan has been traditionally sovereign for 2675 years, France for 1534, and China for 2236 years! It’s crazy to think the USA is a measly 239 years in the making. Many countries that were much older than 239 failed so we’ve still got a long road ahead of us. Without a national religion, culture, cuisine, or language (ie. Spain=Spanish / France=French), it’s hard to say whether the US will stay a power country in the long-run.
However, we are considered the most opportunistic and optimistic country in world history. The media and technology make this an awesome time to be alive, especially as an entrepreneur. We are the only country where people can go from rags to riches in one generation. Study abroad programs are important for the youth of today to appreciate and understand the awesome opportunity they have living in the US!