Why My Study Abroad Experience was Life Changing
– Written by: Cintia Morello
Little did I know when leaving the familiar comforts of home to experience an unfamiliar culture, I would embark on the next great and rewarding adventure of my life.
Language in and of itself is fascinating and the technique of immersion is truly the best and quickest way to learn. Here are a few valuable lessons and tips for those pursuing a path of cultural awareness through studying a language abroad.
Abroad is just that, Abroad!
When you arrive in a new country, culture shock is inevitable! There are so many sights, sounds, and smells; it can seem overwhelming enough to cause anyone to think twice about jumping back on the plane that you just departed. Initially, learning the native language will be the last thing on your mind; finding a place to eat and sleep quickly becomes most important.
Make sure that you have a guide or companion arranged to meet you when you arrive in order to expedite the adjusting experience. At this point, do not be afraid to look like an intimidated tourist; in time and with dedication to your study of language, you will quickly find your way around like a true cultural aficionado.
A Different Perspective on Life
Ask anyone who has studied or traveled abroad and they will all unanimously conclude: it becomes addicting. Broadening your horizons by meeting new people and experiencing new cultures can easily become a hobby or inspire the next step in your journey of life. As stated before, the quickest way to learn the native language in whichever country you visit is full immersion.
Even though it will be frustrating and challenging at times, you will be thankful for understanding the cultural significance of communicating like a local while studying abroad. Another advantage of cultural exposure is becoming self-aware and appreciative. Whether you travel to a country socially and economically similar to your own, or you accept the challenge of traveling to a third world country, your experience will change your perspective of your own routines and the amenities you take for granted back home.
Observing Native Cultures while Studying Abroad
Imagine meeting new people with whom you have only one thing in common: the love of coffee. Now, picture the various descriptions of coffee drinks in a foreign language. In the coffee shop, you try and observe what others are ordering for any familiar smells, appearances, or descriptions; alas, to no avail.
Finally, it is your turn to order: how can you communicate your usual order – an iced dirty chai tea latte with coconut milk – to the cashier when you’re intimidated to open your mouth and ask if they even have coconut milk? Language takes practice and patience; therefore, don’t be demanding or become irate if the barista gives you a blank stare. With practice, you will become a pro at ordering even the most complicated concoction.
What have we learned from this example? Express patience and respect native cultural norms. If they do not provide a certain beverage or keep stock of your favorite ingredient due to religious beliefs or social unacceptability, learn to adapt your tastes to theirs; after all, you are a guest in their country and when in Rome…
The Obvious and the Indirect Benefits
Once you decide to start pond jumping, a common expression with international travelers, be aware of both the benefits and challenges you will face. Some general challenges regarding language barriers and cultural differences were previously mentioned and may cause you to think twice about any or all aspects of traveling abroad; however, you can also greatly profit from your traveling experiences in many indirect ways.
As the global economy grows, so does the demand for multi-linguistic skilled employees. A resume with travelling abroad experience, especially focused on learning new languages, indicates to any employer that you are an open-minded individual eager to accept challenges and adapt to new environments.
The Return Home
Once you return home, expect a constant buzz from friends, family, and co-workers for the next several months (even years).
After any experience abroad, there is a readjustment period some may assume is unnatural or inconvenient. If you experience any thoughts or feelings similar to these, remember to grant yourself patience and reflect on the positive life-changing decisions and experiences; rest assured, the itch to pond hop will return!