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Wake Up to the World

Or, Why You Really Should Study Abroad

On my second day out of the country I sent my mom an email:

“The first thing I noticed about England was the smell. Not England’s – mine. I stank. Like recycled airplane air and B.O. And my hair was greasy, and I was sweaty because somehow travel does that to me. The second things were the accents. Some prim and proper, some slightly cockney, some Scottish, some wild Irish: all sorts laughed and joked, even before I got off the plane. And it occurred to me then that maybe there was some cultural experience to be had in England. ‘Do people really talk like that? All the time?’ Yes, they do. And that led to the third thing: a language barrier. The accents were so thick that I had no idea what was being said. I tried talking to two different people, and each time, understood nothing they said. That was unexpected. I wondered if they could understand me. But soon I saw the fourth thing: rolling hills of green grass, grass that covers the land like peach fuzz. Imagine hobbit hills going on and on and on. And then, of course, there was Oxford.”

Obviously, I was in Oxford. And I was having an incredible time.

Oxford study abroad programs already get a lot of coverage at Eastern, so I’m not going to talk about them specifically. Instead, I want to talk about studying abroad in general, whether in England, Spain, Bolivia, China, or wherever.

Studying abroad is a good experience. For most people, it’s a fun one too. I’ve heard so many happy stories from people who’ve come back that I don’t think I really need to relay any here to convince you of that point; you’ve probably heard as many as I have.

But, not everybody’s study abroad semester goes well. Some people really struggle. Some places are harder than others. I didn’t have a quarter of the difficulties that someone studying in China will have, so I didn’t struggle nearly as much as others will.

Still, it seems to me that whatever the difficulty, and regardless of whether the experience was enjoyable, everyone who’s gone seems to think that studying abroad is worth it; that it is a good experience, and that it grows you as a person. Everyone seems to think that immersing yourself in the world of another country adds something important to you, and that it gives you a bigger lens through which to see. I haven’t heard a single person say they wish they’d hadn’t gone.

In fact, despite the lack of any real culture-shock in my experience, I did have difficulties. Even on that first day, I had no idea what that bus driver was saying, but she looked angry that I wasn’t on board so I just got on and hoped. But even the difficulties are good memories now. I’m glad I went through what I did. And this seems to be the consensus of those who go anywhere.

So I want to encourage those who are on the fence about going: it’s worth it. Maybe it’ll be fun and easy, and maybe it will be hard. But in either case I think you can expect that it will be good for you. So if you can go, do go. I doubt you’ll regret it.

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