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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How to Climb a Mountain

by Ian Agnew

1. Rethink your decision to climb a mountain.

2. After rethinking your decision to climb a mountain, decide to do it anyway, despite the fact that the most exercise you get on a regular basis is carrying groceries up the massive hills of wherever you live (which may or may not be Wellington, New Zealand). If you actually are fit enough to climb a mountain, do not climb a mountain; you could probably impress people just as easily by showing off your muscles or something.

3. Assure yourself that you’re more than capable of climbing a mountain; after all, you once completed a half marathon without training for it at all (note: it is key that you disregard the fact that you wanted to die at the end of said half marathon and were in pain for days afterward; also, your 15-year-old brother finished before you).

4. DO NOT PACK UNTIL THE DAY YOU LEAVE FOR SAID MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING. This step is essential, as packing any time before this date could render you too prepared, and will detract from the necessary experiences of dehydration, sunburn, delirium, etc. If a friend asks you to bring something for them, simply laugh, put on sunglasses, and pee on them (effective for/on both genders).

5. Arrive at the mountain early in the morning wearing too many layers of clothes, because your friends told you to. Do not worry about overheating; within the first hour of the climb, you’ll step off the trail a bit, strip down to your underwear, and only put back on the lightest pair of pants/shorts you have with you. It is important that you believe there will be no need to keep warm later on in the day.

6. Now you must actually climb the mountain. Keys to this step are: stopping every 5 to 10 minutes because one of your friends is somehow more out of shape than you are, not wearing enough sunscreen (even spf 50 didn’t cut it), and regretting your decision to climb said mountain immensely.

7. If you make it to the top, congratulations! It’s freezing cold, despite it having been sweltering 20 minutes ago; by no means should you attempt to warm yourself. Simply sit there, sore and in pain, while you wait for the rest of your friends to make it up because you ran ahead and just wanted to be done with the thing (of course, that’s if you have friends).

8. Once you’ve been sitting there, in the frozen crater of what you’ve now been told is a dormant volcano, begin to think about the trip down and pray for a gondola or helicopter or flying bison to come and make your life easier. None of these will appear, but it is important that you create false hope for yourself.

9. Begin the climb down while attempting to wingman for your friend, as the girl he likes has come on this trip with you. Don’t worry about his constant slipping and falling ungracefully; these only add to his desirability in her eyes. After you’ve made it down a ways, it is important that you feel as though you’re going to die, mostly because you ran out of water two-thirds of the way up, but also because your limbs are telling you that you’re going to die.

10. Somehow, miraculously, make it to the bottom first, hobble into the visitor’s center, and spend five minutes at the water fountain before everyone else; this solidifies your status as “Biggest Asshole” of the day. Take off your socks and hobble everywhere like an old man/woman while complaining endlessly about all of the pain you’re in.

 

Congratulations! You’ve climbed a mountain! Now forget all your pain and suffering and go climb another one next weekend.