Studying abroad provides invaluable life experiences

Before this semester in Dublin, Ireland, I didn’t know my long-lost cousins, how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness or give tips on raising a prize-winning Greyhound.

No conselour or guidebook can predict such diverse accounts. Despite the adventures, many students who return to our purple mountains majesty might bypass the stories and give generic responses like “I am a changed man/woman” or “it was the best time of my life.”

At times, the benefits to studying abroad can be indescribable. Figuring six-plus life-changing months into a few phrases can be overwhelming; however certain elements distinctly sculpt an experience.

The academic rigor can change from program to program depending on your host university, travel company and even grading scale. A new learning arena provides fresh perspective on academic pursuits or grants a denizen with a bit more down time.
Trinity College Dublin’s expectations were similiar to UC Berkeley’s, but there were some positive European differences. The library becomes a better companion and great Euro-saver since most Irish students only check books out rather than buy a bundle of pricey textbooks.

Some schools give more attention than American colleges. At Oxford University, students have classes called  “tutorials” where they are given one-on-one lessons with a tutor.

Phoebe Peronto, fourth-year business administration and political science major, contests that British students study from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People leave the library like a workday, eliminating the all-night study sessions.

Unique to perhaps other semesters, scholarly passions follow a student outside of the classroom. Often the city harbours the inspiration for the curriculum.

As an English major, I’ve poured over novels which felt ever more significant when I walked by Oscar Wilde’s house or the chemist James Joyce describes in “Ulysses.”

Art history major Mary Gianola, who researched Etruscan sculpture, lived in Rome and visited Pompeii to realize that a vital component to the study is being present to the form itself.

So much of what students learn in college is book-based; there is something invaluable to connecting the intellectual world with a personal or visceral experience.

Most importantly, school becomes the epicenter to meet friends and find new avenues of interest, which a person might never have discovered otherwise.

While the world often seems vast, a network provides the comfort and accessibility in unknown territory. I would have never attended an Italian jam session in Amsterdam if it was not for my new Polish friend, Anna. Or I would have never gone to a Hunting Society Ball if it wasn’t for the boarding house I lived in.

Unlike in the United States, a train ride or quick flight often lands you in a completely diverse culture and way of life.

Travel provides the best “real life” lessons, such as thinking on your feet, budgeting and my personal favorite, adapting to new ways of socializing.

Celebrations frame a culture at its highest. While there are so many pros to studying abroad, fun will be a predominant memory. The way you party in the U.S.A. might drastically change.

It can be as simple as enjoying a long meal, drinking wine on the Pont des Arts or dancing to house music until 8 a.m. In Spain, students get accustomed to a new pace with afternoon siestas and clubbing that doesn’t start until the early morning. No matter the country, fun always translates and is never a point of contention.

The finite time to study abroad really lends itself to the “go big, then go home” attitude.

Since there was a deadline to my time abroad, I couldn’t help but live it up every chance I got. To realize that some experiences are not forever reminds you to savor every moment.

Often, studying abroad felt like a hiatus from normalcy. Life almost feels paused; your responsibilities back at home are on hold, giving you time to pursue new hobbies or have the freedom to just breathe and enjoy a new city.

With only a small percent of American undergraduates studying abroad every year, it is difficult to avoid being identified by one’s nationality, an integral component to a personality or just a way to introduce yourself.

Never have I been so conscious of my American citizenship. Living with people from all over the globe, save your homeland, conjures that self-awareness.

Like looking in a mirror, befriending diverse characters only reinforces your own self-perception and allows you to see your culture more objectively.

As well, learning a new language, or slang for that matter, juxtaposes how different people communicate but also how storytelling helps people bond.

While studying abroad, there will be times when you know no one, are in a foreign city and posses the solitude for reflection. Perhaps it’s the perfect precursor to a final year in college or a turning point in life.

But what’s most beneficial is finding a new home and standing on your own without certain familiarities. It’s an experience that affirms your confidence and lets you see yourself in a new light.

Christine Deakers participated in the Education Abroad Program.

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