Many students yearn to study abroad at least once in their college life. But as soon as you find yourself writing a cover letter for an application, you get stuck. “Why did I want to study abroad?” I struggled to answer this question. That’s why the country, the school and the location are so important in your decision. They totally change and determine your study abroad life. For my friends, it was simple. If you want to travel around to different countries, go to Europe. If you want to enjoy “American” college life, go to the United States.
I chose UC Berkeley for many different reasons. It was the most prestigious college (yay!) in our school list, had a variety of Sociology classes, and was close to San Francisco — so it was therefore the best place to “study” abroad. Well, after I came here and spent 5 months in Berkeley, I have a little different perspective on why you should study abroad.
Building your “own” life
Studying abroad costs a lot. I’ve never felt this guilty for relying financially on my parents — they’re paying a lot. The fact that they’re investing huge amounts of money for your experience abroad makes you motivated. However, I found myself being a bit overwhelmed. I was trying to do everything: do my best inside the classroom, make new friends, join new organizations, join socials and travel to different places at the same time. The thought that I might not be doing what other exchange students are doing made me anxious. Then I realized that this is my own life with a different situation and with a different story. Keep in mind that you’re the one who is building your life here, not others. Then, I started to be thankful for everything that I have. Even though I didn’t go to International House (I regretted that a lot at first), I loved my Unit 4 friends. Even though I didn’t travel to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley, I became happy just exploring San Francisco. Now, I’m really satisfied with my study abroad life and what I gained here. I’m not even thinking of extending one more semester here — it’s enough. I learned how to build my own life at my own pace.
Language is the number one challenge for exchange students. English is not my first language. If you decide to study abroad in Europe, you might even have to use a third language. Even though I learned English my whole life (you know, Korean parents are obsessed with English education), I struggled a lot when I first came here. It’s just different! Reading and writing were alright, but the problem was listening and speaking. I wasn’t confident in my English pronunciation, either (Koreans tend to judge your English skills by your pronunciation, which is discouraging). The biggest struggle was speaking in full sentences. I know what to say in my head, as I know all the vocabulary words, but I couldn’t make them into a full sentence! Well, after living in Berkeley for five months, I’m at least not worried about my English skills. They have improved a lot. But, the biggest difference would be confidence that you can communicate in English and the other person is understanding your English! I would give all the credit to my Unit 4 friends and the “small talk” culture.
Relief from reality
Studying abroad can be stressful at some point, and studying abroad in Berkeley was definitely stressful. Why do you still have a midterm the week before RRR week? I realized that it’s really difficult to survive as a UC Berkeley student academically. I respect all of you. But, studying abroad is a relief from the reality; you leave the reality in your home country. For me, that reality was that I’m a Junior, I need to plan and move toward my future career, I need to improve my overall GPA, my friends are leaving campus (because of study abroad and military reasons), I need to earn more money and more. Overwhelming, right? I was able to escape from this reality by coming to the United States. As soon as you settle down, you kind of forget about the things you left in your home country. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not, but at some point in your life, it is necessary to rest. Whenever I lay down on the Glade under the sun between classes, I feel this relief. Whenever I cross the Bay Bridge and get closer to downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, I feel this relief. After studying abroad, I am retrieving time for myself.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You are investing your time and money into it. But, I want to say that it’s really worth it. Whatever goals and reasons you have to want to study abroad, move toward them.