Looking at the World Through A New Lens: Reflections on Study Abroad

Written by Emily April 20, 2016

No explanation needed.

Soaking it all in on our last Cimba extended weekend.

The bittersweet last coffee shop run of the semester. Alpinas, you will be missed!

This was an AWESOME way to see the city. We never would have been able to walk to everything!

I actually cannot believe my time abroad has come to a close. It seems like just yesterday I was packing up my bags thinking of what to write about for my first CIMBA blog—how far we’ve come!

Looking back, it’s hard to think of words to sum up the experience as a whole. I learned so many new things, both in and out of the classroom, and made memories that will surely last a lifetime. Studying abroad challenged me in so many more ways than I could have imagined and every day was a new adventure. I think the best way to wrap up my experience is to share the main things I will take away from the experience; the things that will stick with me forever.

Being comfortable not knowing everything: At home there is a rarely a time that I find myself unaware of what’s going to happen. I fully accredit this to Google. It’s so easy to look anything up at any time that it’s rare to find yourself unsure of things, such as when a bus runs, how to contact someone, or how something will occur. While abroad, this is not the case. Cell service is rare and being able to find certain facts about little towns online is even rarer. Over time I grew more and more comfortable with this, which in the real world is a beneficial trait to have. If something doesn’t go as planned (which trust me, when traveling across Europe, it doesn’t), you learn to take it in stride and figure out the next logical step rather than panicking and immediately grabbing your phone for guidance.

An increased understanding of other cultures: It’s easy to think other countries are doing things the “wrong way” if it’s different from how it’s done at home before actually experiencing it and talking with the people that live it every day. Immersing yourself in other cultures through chatting with locals, trying new foods and activities, and (attempting) to speak the language completely removes you from everything you deem “normal”. It forces you to gain an understanding of how other cultures differ from your own. More importantly, this forces you to think about why they are different. The way I experienced this most was in Italy with the more relaxed Italian way of life. Stores and buses sometimes just don’t open or run on a whim, business hours are different every day, and a two-hour long siesta where the town virtually shuts down during the middle of the day is the norm. At first this drove me crazy. Why couldn’t it be like at home where 24/7 stores are everywhere and things operate to a tee? Eventually, after speaking with Italian people, learning from my Italian professors, and living in the community, I began to think that maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing at all. People seemed to be much less stressed and much happier while living in this decreased sense-of-urgency world. No one was running around frantically or panicking about not having enough time in the day. Maybe, after all, America could borrow a thing or two from this lifestyle!  

A strong appreciation of home: Leaving the United States for the first time gave me the chance to realize what the U.S. has that other countries don’t. I’m more appreciative of home and feel so thankful to be able to call America home. Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely loved every country I visited, but I began to realize the things that other counties were lacking that I always took for granted back home. I now have an increased appreciation for little things; constant access to toilets with running water, microwaves, PEANUT BUTTER, and smoke-free zones to name a few.

Friendships that will last a lifetime: I went abroad without knowing a single person and left with a group of friends that are like a family. We traveled together, ate together, studied together, lived seconds down the hall from each other, and traveled around Europe together. Something about being completely out of your element in a culture you are completely unfamiliar with makes the bonds with the people that go through it with you stronger than ever. I’m a firm believer that the true side of people comes out during travel when you’re sleep deprived, hungry, and surrounded by unfamiliar situations. The friends you travel with see you at your best and worst, and you go through it all side by side. It was incredibly hard to leave the place I called home for 3 months and the friends that turned into family, but now knowing that you have friends all across the country (and already planning visits to see each other!) makes it a bit easier. The friendships you make while abroad will surely last a lifetime.

I came across this quote while I was researching for one of our weekend trips and it’s stuck with me ever since:

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” -Leonardo Da Vinci

If you’re on the fence about going abroad, do it. If you haven’t even thought about it once, also do it. Thanks for sticking with me on this semester-long adventure! Ciaoooo!