Study abroad. The most life-changing weeks to ever slap a 20-year-old no-body from Kentucky into reality. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, trust me when I say- you’ll know the moment. The one that stops you in your tracks and makes you realize you know nothing. Your life won’t be the same – but in a good way.
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1. Your Mentalities From Before Studying Abroad In College will Be Shattered
(And that’s a very good thing.)
There was a definite shift in how I looked at people, places, and things after I got back from Ecuador. It was unexpected, to say the least. As a no-body twenty-year-old, I was dying to study abroad and have some fun. Not once did I expect the world to change me. Before my trip, here are a few things I assumed about international travel:
- Travel abroad would be ‘fun’ and easy.. more like a vacation than anything?
- I had seen poor, content, and rich throughout Kentucky, so I assumed I had a firm grasp of the world’s socio-economic stage.
- The cultures I had mentally crafted from TV shows and movies weren’t going to be a big shock, and I was ‘worldly’- even though I’d never left the US.
- As a high school athlete, I assumed I could physically handle whatever studying abroad threw my way (insert snort at memories of hiking through the jungle).
- Reading and school had always come easy to me, so I assumed I would be fine learning things in another culture, not needing to really know any Spanish before I left.
What study abroad did for me? Told me I was wrong. Majorly, all wrong. And spit me back out as a better person.
2. You’ll Learn to Fly Internationally
My mom’s blue minivan drove the heck out of a US Highway. Cooler in the back full of ham sandwiches, Doritos and Capri-Suns.. needless to say – I love road trips. I had flown to New York and the beach here and there- but nothing quite compares you to an international flight. Getting there early, passport in hand, being a bit scared of going out of the country, and not getting back in for some odd reason in this crazy world?
3. You’ll Learn The Value of Self-Reliance
My parents had dutifully warned me to be cautious and protect my passport etc., the whole time I traveled. While I heard what they said, I did not understand it until I was in the Quito Mariscal Sucre Airport. Going through customs, finding your bag, and all of the other things that, for a first-time international flyer, are just overwhelming? All the while being terrified to lose your passport.
4. You’ll Learn The Value of A Good Night’s Sleep
So that first assumption about studying abroad and it being a breeze? It came to an earth-shattering halt when I was in Ecuador.. Travelling is fun, but it’s also a lot of work? If I wanted a vacation, I needed to go to Mexico and chill at a resort. Not travel internationally from city to city with goals in mind.
No more of that 4 hours of sleep like when you’re a college student. Remember those days? You’ll do so much better in life if you can learn to get a good night’s sleep. You have to prioritize good sleepover partying sometimes in order to get out and see the world!!
5. The People You Meet Studying Abroad In College Will Change You
Our study abroad trip, as with all study abroad trips, had an educational purpose. Our study abroad trip had two main objectives:
- Delivering and administering dental care aid
- Understanding of sustainable farming practices in other countries.
At one point I really wanted to be a dentist. Obviously, that’s not where I am in life now, but at the time I really thought this trip would look good on my resume for dental school. Yes. That was my goal: a resume builder and not necessarily with the mindset that I would come out different!
Fortunately, as I traveled, I allowed myself to be immersed in the Ecuadorian culture. This meant getting to know the people we were serving as more than a resume builder. Studying abroad in college is meant to enrich the parts that of you that a classroom can’t. It requires you to be open and allow yourself to care about the people. Only then will you truly benefit from the experience.
A ‘Real Life’ Tip for Making The Most of Study Abroad:
Sometimes in college, you fall into a certain persona. By going overseas and getting away from your normal college mates – you get a chance to explore different parts of you really are, completely out of your normal element. Most people think that study abroad’s goal is to enrich your mind.. and that’s true. But a larger part of study abroad that you need to allow yourself to do is become a better person – free of who you thought you were.
6. You’ll Learn How Less Wasteful Other Countries Are
That trip we provided children with much needed dental care. While that may seem like we genuinely did good work- the sheer need for medical supplies caught me off guard. I think that was the first time I understood how different our lives in the US are from even just some of our closest neighbors?
The kids that needed dental care? – Happy as clams playing soccer in the streets after school, surrounded by families with deep contentment and not always striving for more. Want to talk about a mindset shift? Coming back to the United States after this trip I felt like I needed to cut out half of the frivolous things in my life. Ecuador forced me to face how absolutely grateful I should be for my life, imperfect as everyone’s life always is.
The second assumption I had? You know the one about having a firm grasp on socio-economics? Shattered – and then rebuilt up a smidge. A smidge because although I did learn and gain insight, I still have a long way to go. Since then, Ev and I have traveled more out of the country, and I’m no longer shocked by it. ‘It’ being that feeling of change that accompanies interacting with people from entirely different cultures.
7. The Mountainous Jungle and Your Physical Fitness
Remember The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan and the evil-almost-step-mother Meredith? And the scene where Meredith sucks at hiking because she was only semi-gym-fit? Yeah. That was me.
I’d always been involved in athletics, and I liked going to the nice air-conditioned gym on campus. In reality, hitting the elliptical a few times a week and lifting my 5-pound dumbbells was not enough. I should’ve been hiking and really conditioning myself so that I wouldn’t have felt dead after approximately only three hours hiking. It was the jungle, so the climate was different, but the guides who took us never needed to slow down. They were strong and functionally fit in a way that I didn’t even know I needed to be.
My original misconceptions were again shattered. That trip spurred a mindset to take physical fitness seriously. We can’t expect to conquer other mountains if we’re eating like garbage and not taking the opportunity to be active. We live in Kentucky where the hills roll aplenty, and hiking in Kentucky is now one of our favorite past times!
8. Study Abroad Helps You Appreciate The Small Things
When you travel overseas- most likely, you’re not going to take everything with you that you normally have. Studying abroad in college is no different. No matter how long you go – you’ll learn to become resourceful. By not being able to have much in the way of possessions – little things start to mean more.
Especially for American students studying abroad – we’re so inundated with products and food choices. I don’t personally remember a time when I appreciated a taco? Being in another country when you’re navigating a foreign language makes it much harder to order! There were times I was so hungry from traveling etc., that I became truly appreciative!
The Biggest Perk of Not Having A Cell Phone Back Then
I paid attention! All of the little things I saw and experienced I still remember. Like the time I tried cane liquor and straight-up vomitted. (It was the polite thing to do when you entered someone’s home. Needless to say, I will never do that again.)
9. You’ll Learn to Manage Your Time
Studying abroad in college is the best opportunity to learn time management! Not to mention that mastering time management allows you to see more while you’re on your trip.
If you sleep in every day until noon because you’re up late watching Netflix – you’ll probably miss out on a few amazing experiences. One of my favorite experiences was waking up early while we were in a hotel in the jungle.
It came alive with the sounds of macaws and monkeys in the early morning. There has never been a time when I’ve felt more at peace, and that was only possible because I wasn’t up late. That’s not to say that you can’t also stay up late and have a perfect memorable night. You just have to make sure you’re making the most of your experience.
10. Study Abroad Expands Your Ability To Be Adaptable
One of the best things that come out of getting out of your element? Learning to be adaptable.
Your adaptability never grows more than when you’re in another country. You’ll start figuring out the skills you need to become truly travel savvy. These are different than your average life skills to become a fully functioning adult? Things like thinking on your feet when you lose your phone or figuring out how to read maps are crucially important.
11. You’ll See Things That Almost Feel Out of This World
Like a volcano erupting?! That happened on my trip to Ecuador and it was life-changing. This is the absolute best reason to study abroad in college. Not necessarily the volcano part – but seeing extraordinary things. If you want to look back fondly on your life – live your life chasing incredible things. Studying abroad in college really is the perfect time for that.
Your prefrontal cortex isn’t well-formed enough yet to evaluate risks so you do amazing things that you’ll look back on and smile! ; )
In the end, studying abroad in college is one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself. As a biology major – we used to joke that with all the science being stuffed into our heads – we were actually becoming a little bit dumber. Going to Ecuador gave me that perfect chance to reconnect with reality away from my college atmosphere.