By Erin Golden
The benefits of studying abroad as a college student can be described just like the places you can go: unlimited. At the risk of sounding like every other student who’s had the privilege of traveling, stepping out of my comfort zone and living in a foreign country for a semester changed how I look at people, the world and even PR.
With endless opportunities available, many students are overwhelmed and don’t know how to start their journeys abroad. Especially with the amount of work that PR students do, taking a semester or summer off to study abroad can seem like too much. But the positive lessons that can be learned from traveling, taking pictures, map-reading, cobblestone-walking and mistake-making are numerous. I wouldn’t take back my experience for anything, but I will give some pointers to my peers who are contemplating starting a journey abroad.
1. Look at life through a different lens. Whether it’s a 2-week-long spring break trip to Ecuador, or a year-long exchange in Leipzig, Germany, exposure to how other people live can help you to understand how their societies operate. Understanding people means understanding their views and opinions, making it easier to put things in their perspective. I never thought I would have so much in common with a fifty-something woman from Toledo, Spain. And although it may come as a surprise to many Americans, not everywhere operates the way we do – and sometimes, their ways might be better. A little exposure to different elements never hurt anyone.
2. Be self-reliant. When you’re in a foreign city, GPS and iPhones aren’t a reliable source for getting directions or Googling questions. Using paper maps and asking people for directions are a lost art in the days of technology. Many young adults don’t know how to read a map anymore or figure out their locations without their phones. Exploring new cities and countries while abroad is the perfect place to get lost and learn how to find yourself. Trust me, the amount of times I got lost is laughable, but I always found my way.
3. And when you can’t rely on yourself, trust others. When traveling, you learn how to rely on yourself, but you also learn that people all over the world are, for the most part, genuinely kind. If you need help, ask someone. Or lean on the shoulder of your travel buddy. Learning how to compromise and make decisions as a group can be extremely difficult, but after traveling in a group and being forced to come to a collective decision in a timely manner, working in a group is much easier. “Give a little and take a little” can be a good motto for school, PR and life.
4. Materialistic things aren’t as important as you previously thought. With limited space in your backpack or suitcase, it’s just not possible to bring everything you own. And backpacking from hostel to hostel means no laundry – re-wearing the same clothes will become a reality. Plus, when money is tight and your backpack is small, it makes more sense to spend money on experiences rather than things. If I could extend only one piece of advice to future study abroad students this would be it. Memories of the sky-flight over Madrid will most likely last longer than the keychain you bought at the palace. Experience trumps things, every single time.
In any line of work, experience is key. It’s not always the degree you have or the title it comes with, but the projects and work you’ve done before. (And as Scripps kids, we know this well.) However, studying abroad can be the trip of a lifetime – and may teach you things you never would be able to learn walking the streets of Athens (as much as we love those beautiful bricks). The whole world is out there; it’s just up to you to decide your destination.