When you hear the words “study abroad,” words like Nutella, wine, Skype, gelato, and H&M likely come to mind.
A relaxed semester isn’t such a bad thing. College is so competitive that a semester with a laid back tone can benefit an undergraduate’s experience. However, consider the status of global politics. The benefits of studying abroad are more important than ever. Here’s how and why you can reap those benefits.
This article was written for the Huffington Post. Read it on that platform.
The study abroad curriculum is typically not as rigorous as that of students’ home university. Rightfully so. Students should spend their time immersing themselves in their local culture and meeting people. Yet, the relaxed tone of curriculum mixed with a newfound sense of freedom has resulted in a stereotype of what it means to study abroad. The words are now met with ideas of partying, traveling, shopping, and relaxing.
It’s time for this stereotype to be challenged. Consider the immigration crisis in Europe, the election in the United States, and the divide within Britain (just to name a few). If we, as millennials, have any hope of addressing and conquering the issues our world is facing, we must have a deeper appreciation for other cultures. This is why studying abroad is such a powerful tool.
To those planning on or currently studying abroad, I challenge you to take your experience a step further. Truly act as an ambassador for your country. You are there because you have an interest in that country. Make the locals interested in your country, too! Here are some suggestions to help take your study abroad a step further and mend the weak relationships among cultures we’re seeing today.
Don’t travel while you’re there
This tip is pretty unpopular. I realize how tempting it is to travel all over the continent you’re studying abroad on. Yet, I encourage you to stay put. The more you travel, the more of a vacation your semester becomes, and the less of a cultural ambassador you have the opportunity to be. If you’re constantly on-the-go, you forfeit the opportunity to truly immerse in a culture or a language. Your chances to develop and foster relationships with locals lessen. The truth is, if you’re going abroad just to travel around for a couple of months, you can do that anytime. There is nothing about a Eurotrip that will make your study abroad experience unique. Anyone can travel around, but to truly live in another country is a gift. Treat it like one.
Learn the language
This should seem obvious, but I want to reiterate the value of learning your local language. More frequently, study abroad programs are becoming available in English, even if the local language is not English. This can be a good thing! Taking an entire semester in a foreign language is difficult no matter how many years you’ve practiced. But this doesn’t give you a free pass. Even if your classes are in English, refuse to speak English when going out at night or when chatting with locals. Make time every day to study the local language, at least for a bit. Some linguistic experts claim the only true way to learn a language is by immersion. So, immerse yourself! Don’t let that opportunity slip away.
Start a travel blog with intention
Starting a blog for your study abroad time is a great idea because it allows you to share your journey with friends and family without individually e-mailing everyone. Take your blog a step further by focusing it on your observations about one specific aspect of your country’s culture. Studying abroad in Latin America? Blog about how the country is handling climate change and how it’s affecting the economics, politics, and social practices of that nation. Studying abroad in Europe? Write about your observations of the immigration crisis in particular neighborhoods. Studying abroad in South America? Record your experiences learning Spanish and the notable differences of expression found in English versus Spanish. Blog with intention. This will also be a great platform for you to have when you return and begin looking for jobs or fellowships.
More: how to create an incredible abroad blog or get your free guide to creating your own below.
Try to branch out from your study abroad program and find a volunteer opportunity on your own. You can even try to create a volunteer project or program of your own if you feel comfortable coordinating in your community. This is a great opportunity for you to contribute to and deepen your knowledge in a cause that you care about. You’ll learn more about the issue at hand and more about how the community is responding to that issue. I further encourage you to volunteer on a regular basis, not just as a one-time occasion. Not only will you learn more and help more, you have the opportunity to make influential and meaningful relationships with those your helping and your fellow volunteers.
More: learn how to lead a volunteer project in college
For many, studying abroad is the highlight of college. Take it a step further and have it be a highlight of your overall career. Don’t worry, I am sure you’ll still have plenty of fun along the way :).