Why Going Abroad is Only the Beginning of the Journey
At my university in America, studying abroad is a pretty huge deal. Many (if not most) students have visited another country for either the summer, a semester, or interterm period, simply because Panthers are encouraged to become “global citizens” in order to achieve their full potential.
They have a point.
Studying abroad for any amount of time is a necessity if you want to learn more about yourself. Putting yourself in uniquely challenging situations makes you grow as a person, no matter how Hallmark-y that sounds. You may not go backpacking across Europe or tour Asia to “find yourself,” but you can certainly go just so that you realize who you are when you’re not in your usual day-to-day situations. America isn’t the only country in the world, and it’s important to leave and learn more about the world around us.
But going on about all the benefits of studying abroad is pointless if I don’t specify that there’s a difference between going abroad and actually involving yourself in your new environment.
You have to make an effort to see the city around you, or you might as well be back at home.
In an attempt to follow suit of those before me, I hastily applied to study in the Czech Republic for the fall semester of my junior year, and am happily sitting in my apartment in Prague as I write this. It’s only been a little over a month since my arrival, but I’ve been here long enough to realize one important facet of studying abroad that no one else thought to tell me: you have to make an effort to see the city around you, or you might as well be back at home.
Once your plane lands in the country of your now new home, you can’t shrug your shoulders and consider your mission accomplished. Simply being in another country does not a study abroad student make. Taking the initiative to meet locals, sign up for clubs and activities, and get out of the house just to explore your neighborhood is undeniably essential to your experience.
I’ve witnessed too many passive peers of mine sit in their apartments all day, desperately trying to make contact with their friends back home instead of making new friends abroad. I’ve witnessed too many Americans congregate together and move in groups at night, refusing to engage in conversation with anyone who isn’t from their home country (or even state, or school, which is even more ridiculous.) I’ve witnessed too many friends complain that they’re homesick, but turn down any and all opportunities to learn more about their new country.
There are others out there who have not been given the gift of the world; others out there who will never leave the confines of their state lines.
Whether you’re studying abroad for a while or just traveling for an extended period of time, remember that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are others out there who have not been given the gift of the world; others out there who will never leave the confines of their state lines. Do not take your opportunities for granted.
Gilbert K. Chesterton, whoever he is, once said “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”
Don’t be a tourist. Be a traveler.
Top photo by Unsplash.