At the end of August 2014, I found myself on a plane going from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, where I would catch a train and go to Leiden, the Netherlands and spend the next four and a half months there. I was scared out of my mind upon landing, but living in Leiden became the best experience I could have asked for. I know that a number of other people who decide to study abroad feel similar by the end of their experience. With that, here are __ reasons why you should consider studying abroad, whether that means this coming spring semester if the deadlines haven't passed or in the summer or fall, depending on your program.
1. Explore the Places You've Only Read About or Seen in Movies. Since I lived in Europe and near a big international airport (Schipol Airport), the world was my oyster. I ended up visiting eight countries (if you include the Netherlands and also if you include Vatican City, which is a city state) during my semester abroad. I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris when my family came to visit, I saw the Colosseum on my 21st birthday, I saw Brandenburg Gate in Berlin when my fiance came to visit, I went through the Anne Frank House twice while living in the Netherlands. Being in these places in person is so much better than keeping at a distance with books and films. It's very hard to describe.
2. Get to Know Yourself Better. This is a very important one. While living abroad, you're usually away from your family and people you know and so you have to figure things out on your own. You learn your limits-- things that you're okay and comfortable with and things that you're not okay with and may even make you feel unsafe. My solo trip to England comes to mind immediately. I was comfortable using the Tube and finding my way around London on a map, but I was not comfortable staying out after dark in this strange city while I was on my own, so I made sure to be back at my hostel by then. On a more positive note, you learn about what you're capable of. I never thought that I would be able to walk into a grocery story in the Netherlands and not speak a word of English while I found my food and checked out with an actual Dutch person. If you can't tell, I'm still very proud of myself for this. You also learn what it important to you when you learn about a part of history or a culture that truly moves you or when you prioritize going to see one thing over another when you visit another place for a short while.
3. Live Like a Local. If you've been living in roughly the same place all your life, it can be hard to fathom what it's like for other people around the world to live in their day-to-day life. When you study abroad with a program that doesn't do everything for you, you shop at the same grocery stores that local people shop at, you know when market day is, you celebrate the holidays as they are happening in the city... you basically become one of the locals, if only for a short period of time.
4. Learn a Language. There is nothing like total immersion when it comes to learning a language. Doing DuoLingo or even studying a language in school can compare to total immersion. My experience is probably not the best example, because a number of Dutch people speak English, especially in the University town where I lived, but for people who live in smaller cities abroad or who find the special pockets of the big cities and practice what language they know will be able to practice with native speakers and you try and work out what you want to say and what other people are saying to you. I won't say that there is no "out" to using the native language of the place where you're living, but there are fewer opportunities for switching to English that if you were doing DuoLingo or studying at school. You struggle through the interaction, but you're a lot better speaker of that language for it.
There are a million reasons why you should absolutely study abroad, but here are four you should take into consideration as you prepare for your great adventure!
Thanks for Reading!