Why Studying Abroad Can Be the Best Part of Your Southwestern Experience
As someone who has been travelling from the moment I was born, I always wanted to do a study abroad as part of my college experience. In June 2018, I was able to experience a month long language immersion program in Havana, Cuba. It was one of the most exciting things I’ve done since coming to Southwestern, and I want to encourage others to learn abroad as well.
You step out of your comfort zone
One of the best, but also the most challenging parts of studying abroad, is forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. Learning how to travel on your own can be scary, especially if you are going somewhere that doesn’t speak the same language as you. If you aren’t comfortable going that far, you can start out with study abroad programs that don’t require a second language. They will help with a lot of the stress that comes with the paperwork, and more often than not you’ll be traveling with a group of other students who also speak English and will be just as lost as you. Forcing yourself into new situations is terrifying, but also exhilarating, and is one of the best parts about studying abroad.
You can learn a new language
As I mentioned earlier, I studied abroad for the purpose of learning a new language. By being fully immersed in a language, you are more likely to learn it. Research shows that you develop more cognitive skills in an immersive setting, such as multi-linguistic awareness. Not being able to communicate in English is a pretty good incentive to learn quickly if nothing else. It only takes getting on the wrong bus route once to learn that lesson.
You immerse yourself in a new culture
Exploring new cultures is one of the best parts of going abroad. It’s easy to forget how different the world is from our little corner until you get out there and see it for yourself. Culture shock is definitely a real thing, and it can be difficult to overcome. Living in a place with different customs and traditions, languages, and organizations can be difficult. Something as simple as an introduction can be one of the greatest shocks when adjusting to a new area. I remember that being one of the things that I always struggled with. Greeting people with a hug and a kiss on each cheek was probably one of the things that I struggled to adapt to the most. However, by the time I returned to the States, it seemed like our culture was the weird one. It is a strange feeling, and really can’t explained with words alone.
You meet new people
I’ll be the first to say that I don’t like meeting new people. I am painfully introverted and dislike having to interact with large groups of people, especially when there is a language barrier thrown into the mix. I’m not going to say that studying abroad magically turned me into a social butterfly. I still struggle with meeting people and going out, but study abroad helped me face my discomfort by forcing me to interact with others. Living in a more open and friendly culture also helped with that fear of interaction that can come with travelling. I still talk with the people who I met while I was abroad and hope that those who choose to travel will cultivate the same types of relationships.
You learn new things every day
Whether you are in the classroom or in the field, you are learning new things everyday. Different places function differently, so you need to learn new skills to get by and thrive in your new environment. That includes learning how to talk to people, in whatever language is spoken in the region.
It gets you out of the college bubble
Being a college student and having everything we could need provided within a mile radius of campus, we sometimes forget that there is more to life than the bubble we live in. In some ways it is nice because we have a unique type of freedom that lacks the consequences of the rest of our adult life. What better way to use that freedom than to leave the bubble and see as much of the world as possible? You meet new people, learn new things, and will come back with a changed perspective.
It looks good on a resume
For those who are already thinking that far ahead, having a study abroad experience on your resume adds a type of appeal for employers that is difficult to replicate. Being able to say that you learned how to speak Spanish in Cuba or studied civil rights issues in India, gives you a unique appeal that places you above other applicants.
It is an invaluable experience
If you haven’t already figured it out after everything I listed, studying abroad is an experience that is valuable beyond measure. You can experience things in a way that is completely different from what you are familiar with, and will return a better person for it. You most likely will come back with new skills and understandings that can’t be found anywhere else. It will be one of the best things that you could choose to do with your Southwestern experience.