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European-American Topics - Editorial - Studying Abroad

Studying Abroad as a Life-changing Experience

By Megan Clark
Posted December 3, 2007


    Tens of thousands of young students each year pack up their lives for a few months to a full school year in hopes of creating a lifetime memory. The opportunity to study abroad has become as available as higher education itself. Some programs are even offered to students in middle school and high school. To be honest, any chance to study abroad is an amazing and life-changing experience. I lived in Italy for two months last summer and created an unforgettable memory. However, it’s important to understand why people study abroad and what they can do to enrich their time in a foreign country.  

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    The best thing I did before going to Italy was to drop all of my expectations about what the next few months would look like. I can’t look into the future; no one can. I had never been that far away from home for such a long time, so to say I was nervous before I left would be an understatement. But I didn’t let it stand in my way. I decided that I would feel better if I traveled with someone else in my study abroad program. When we decided to fly together we were acquaintances, but hardly close friends. That would soon change dramatically.   

    Once I arrived in Italy, it became clear that I wasn’t going to waste this experience. Fortunately for me, my travel buddy was on the same page. We when got to the town we would be living in all summer, we tried to change our living arrangements because the place we were assigned to seemed too far away from the center. We thought we knew what we wanted, but as it turns out we couldn’t be more wrong. Staying in our apartment was the best decision we made in Italy. We met our roommate Sara who introduced us to all her amazing Italian friends, who then quickly became our friends. This is an example to let you know that you really have no idea what’s best for you in a new and foreign situation. The best thing to do is go with the flow in circumstances like that. You know when you are in a bad situation and need to take action, which does happen abroad. But chances are you need to let what’s going on around you run its course, it will probably surprise you.    

    Now that I had all these new Italian friends and learned to go with the flow, I had to get over this apprehension I had about the language. I was in Italy to learn the language and already studied Italian for a year back in the states, so I knew enough to get by. But for some reason I was too scared to use the language skills I had. So I spent a lot of time not saying much. Finally my friend Sergio confronted me on my silence. He assured me that everyone knew I didn’t speak Italian fluently and wouldn’t get better if I didn’t try. So I got over my fear of speaking horrible Italian in front of my friends, which was a blessing because I got to know them all so much better and improved in my classes.  

    I was lucky in Italy. Most Americans who study abroad end up sticking with people in their own U.S. program. It’s unfortunate, but true. My thought was if I’m going to take all of the effort to go over to Europe I was certainly going to try and experience as much as possible. So in order to do this I needed to immerse myself in the local culture. This is almost impossible to do completely, but don’t let it stop you from trying. The best thing to do is become friends with people from the place you are staying in. Like I said before it’s hard, but honestly it will enhance your experience aboard in a whole new way. I now have an amazing group of friends that I still stay connected with in Italy. I was able to see the other side of Italy, the one that many visitors don’t see. I was welcomed into their family’s homes and lives for two months. And I can promise you that I will never forget my time abroad. It will always be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. So if you are planning on studying aboard, remember to make the most of your experience by letting go of any preconceived notions. And don’t be afraid to talk to the locals and make friends, you never know how they can help improve your time overseas.       


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