Everyone knows that you don’t study abroad for the classes: you study abroad for the sights, the people, and the experience. Although this is a well-known fact among those struck by wanderlust, I am the type of person to never miss a class. The guilt or fear of missing valuable information kept me going to class every time. But whether you are like me or decide to have less than stellar attendance in all of your classes abroad, you will still learn invaluable information about yourself and the world around. The learning that happens outside of the classroom, I might argue, is even more important than the facts you memorize for Intro to Sociology of New Zealand (but hey, I still learned a lot there too!).
These are just a few of the important lessons I learned while studying abroad:
- Take advantage of every opportunity to see or try something new. This is something that seems so obvious. Whenever I have been in another country, I’ve planned every weekend around some kind of excursion or have taken the afternoon to go somewhere the locals might overlook. I took every opportunity to see as many things as possible and spend as much time with the people around me, because I knew that our time was limited. I realized how exhilarating it felt to live life abroad knowing that it would all be over soon, and wondered why I wasn’t doing this while I was in America too. It is easy to overlook the wonders that lie just around the corner from where you live because they are always there; you take advantage of them or think “I will go there eventually.” When I left New Zealand, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t wait for an opportunity to present itself, I would make the most of my time no matter where I was or how much time I thought I had (because you can never really know).
- Not everything needs to be planned. This one took a little time because I am definitely a planner. I may not be 100% type A, but I like planning, and knowing what I am going to do ahead of time saves precious time when traveling. But being in New Zealand, I was surrounded by locals who didn’t take life too seriously (some of my friends and professors didn’t wear shoes!) and I spent a majority of my time with fellow international students. My friends from different parts of Europe and the Netherlands definitely had different styles/ways of doing things; they were much more “go with the flow” and spontaneous. Travelling with different types of people from around the world allowed me to explore through their eyes. Without these friends, I may have missed or passed by some of the most incredible moments I had while abroad: learning to surf at sunrise, having a snow ball fight on top of a mountain, and witnessing the most breathtaking sunset thousands of feet up in the mountains. These moments were not on my itinerary, but I am so thankful that they happened.
- Travel is the only thing we buy that makes us richer. I learned while abroad that it costs A LOT of money to have basic necessities like food on top of paying to travel. Even though taking out another loan or asking my parents to borrow more money was hard (knowing that I would be more in debt), but I have never regretted it. The experiences I was fortunate to have are more worthwhile to me than any object I could have purchased with that money. When you travel, you are making an investment into enriching your life, and you can’t put a price tag on that.
If you have never studied abroad and you have time, make it happen! If you are out of college, it’s not too late to start saving to travel! But if you do not have the time or money, I hope you can take some of these lessons I have learned and start to incorporate them into your life and explore the lessons right where you live!