How (Not) to Study Abroad

by Ian Agnew

happy rainbow

Warning #1: Slightly less humor, slightly more advice. Buckle up, friends.

Warning #2: A lot of what I say here runs counter to many firmly-held opinions and beliefs, and maybe even those in other articles here. This is just my take on things.

I mean, obviously.

Now, I don’t know about you folks, but if I had a dollar for every article, handout, pamphlet, guidebook, bathroom stall poster, and travel/”young people” blog that I’ve come across espousing the magical wonders of studying abroad in a different country, I’d have enough money to purchase my own fleet of yachts (of course, I would only buy the first one; the rest I’d commandeer). Your college, your parents, your friends—everyone tells you what a good idea it is and how much fun you’ll have. After all, college is the best time of your life, right? What better way to spend that time than having all sorts of adventures and life-altering experiences in another culture far away from everything and everyone you know and love?

Look, I’m not going to lie to you; it’s a pretty damn good time.

BUT, there are right and wrong reasons to do it, like with most things. If you want to learn about a new country or culture and be exposed to it (and all that entails) for a semester or two, go for it. If you want to take some time away from your life back home to figure some things out about you, awesome. But if you’re primarily looking to go crazy on the sauce and bang every attractive foreign person you come across, I might suggest you go back to freshman year and rethink your choices a bit.

Still with me? Here, have a bit of a break: “A priest opens up a gym for Christians; he calls it ‘Jehovah’s Fitness.’” Nicely re-humored? Excellent; carry on.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad, you’re going to have a lot of people telling you a lot of things. My advice (since you’re clearly here to hear it) would be this:

DO NOT SIMPLY TAKE OTHERS’ ADVICE.

I realize that seems a tad (completely) contradictory, but hear me out; too often I see people telling others to, when they go abroad, “Do everything, go everywhere, never say no, go crazy at bars, do things you would never do, live dangerously, never be content with sitting around doing nothing, you must always be doing things.” Honestly, for some people that works (clearly; I’ve seen them at it), but it is by no means the ONLY way to live while abroad.

I don’t think you should actively go out of our way to “do something crazy;” if you feel like doing something crazy, then by all means, you should. But there is nothing wrong with spending a weekend in your flat, writing a story or just laying on your bed with absolutely no outside stimulation at all and just letting your mind wander and have thoughts on its own. I believe that studying abroad should not be treated as a second take on people’s freshman year at college (unless you were a completely rational human being at that point; if you were, I applaud your parents); it should be you, living your life, but in a new place and context where you get to do different and fun things. Seriously, how much fun are you having if you’re doing things just because you feel you should, as opposed to things you want to do, regardless of where you are?

I had the opportunity to go bungee jumping in Queenstown (not really; I had nowhere near enough money) but I didn’t, because I really did not want to and it is something that is way too far out of my comfort zone (also the money thing). We should be comfortable from time to time, even when studying abroad. Content and happy is a perfectly valid way to live, and don’t you let anyone try to tell you you’re wrong for living that way. If they do, I’ll Cage them so hard, they won’t pee for a year (feel free to ask me if you want to know what Caging is).

Lastly, you should not expect studying abroad to change your life/worldview forever. Sure, some people come back changed for the better (or weirder), but having some massive revelation about life or your “grand purpose” is nowhere near the norm. I think that’s a very American thing to believe; we (especially college students) believe the world outside to be so much more informed and culturally superior to our closed-minded America when, in reality, most of the world’s people behave pretty much the same way, barring language and some more efficient governmental practices. There’s no need to feel bad if, upon return home, someone asks, “Did studying in [COUNTRY NAME], y’know, change you?” and you can’t honestly answer “Yes.” You look them in the eyes (eye, if they’re that kind of pirate) and say, “No, bugger off.”

Everyone studies abroad in his or her own way; advice can hurt as much as it can help. At the end of the day, it’s got to come down to who you are as a person and what you want and need to get out of your experience. Don’t let anyone else shape how you spend your time abroad for you, not even me.

But if you do let me, be sure to cite your sources.

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One comment on “How (Not) to Study Abroad

  1. Pingback: Q&A with Brittany Tedesco Editor of Wanderlust-Mag.com - Wanderlust Notes

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