Throughout your life, there will be abundant learning experiences that can show you how to be the best version of yourself and offer perspective. I can say that study abroad was one of the most rewarding and life-changing events I’ve ever encountered.
Living in a different country helped me re-shape my perspective in so many ways and also gave me a chance to reflect on ways I would not have been able to if I had chosen to stay home.
Here are some of the ways I saw growth that I think many other study abroad students can or will relate to:
1. Becoming a Prouder Citizen
I’ve always been a proud American and it’s pretty understandable. Much of it is related to upbringing and culture. Being born and raised for most of my life in the South, learning from a young age to have deep respect for the valor of military servicemen and women, and a lover of The Constitution and Freedom, it was just always second nature.
During my time in the United Kingdom, I gained perspective on so much about the meaning of non-American culture from the aristocracy, well-defined class systems, and what it means to live in a country where citizens are NOT overly obsessed with politics or 24-hour news cycles (that part I found refreshing!).
I also learned more about the concept of work ethic abroad and what it means to different people. It was fascinating. Now it’s not that aristocratic class systems or taking a siesta in the middle of the day are “bad”, it’s just not American.
Most Americans are raised to be ambitious, gritty, and scrappy, whether you come from Orange County, California, or Flint, Michigan, there’s a seed planted into us early on that there’s a chance to make it, that we can be something more than we are, that our starting place, won’t be our finishing place.
Despite more modern attempts to weave victimhood into our nation’s narrative, we’re much better than that.
It’s just who we are, and for all of our flaws, I feel that we live up to that. America is the land of opportunity and the stories that are made here, I firmly believe, couldn’t be made anywhere else, even if they continue other places (Think the Legendary Tina Turner for example!).
I had never considered the power of being an American and what it means to the world until I stepped outside the country. It was and has been powerful for me.
2. Becoming more tolerant to different perspectives
I realize this will sound like double-talk based on my first point made early on, but studying and living abroad made me much more tolerant of other cultures and perspectives.
I’ll admit it, going overseas, I was like most Americans: smug, arrogant, and had a sense of ‘we do it betterism’, part of the reason we are often that way I suppose is because of the type of successes our nation produces (catch-22!). But the more I assimilated, I gained an appreciation for certain cultural norms in different countries.
For example, as a super-duper introvert, I immediately fell in love with the very British, hands-off approach to communication. Brits & Europeans are often put off by how as Americans, we tell you our entire life story within the first 10 minutes of meeting one another.
In England in particular, people are much more reserved and are like onions – it takes a long time to peel back those layers. I felt right at home instantly.
In Italy, I loved how there was such an emphasis put on enjoying life and especially how that was built around good conversation and delicious food. In the US, getting together for a family meal has become more of an anomaly and big feasts are reserved for holidays, generally speaking.
Every night across Italia, families are gathering for HOURS at a time to celebrate each other and life and they will invite you in if you allow them.
Side note: If you ever get the chance to join an Italian family for a five-hour meal that starts at 8 pm and includes lots of good red wine, I encourage you to take it as it’s a one-of-a-kind experience and you’ll have stories to tell for decades to come.
3. Becoming a better version of myself
Studying abroad also ultimately showed me how to become a better version of myself as a being. I’m not sure if it was just based on being immersed in a new culture or the change in scenery and pace, but I felt a shift within myself daily.
Now I know there will be people reading this who say ‘Well, you do not have to study abroad to become a better person’.
They would be 100 percent correct, that is true – but it helps.
Being able to adapt and assimilate taught me more about what I like and do not like. The addition to my education put a spark inside me and showed me what I wanted and how to get there and would eventually lead me to create The LiveStudyLearn Abroad Association.
And along the journey, all the people I met taught me more about the type of community I wanted to find and build around me. Self-discovery was one of the best parts of my study abroad experience, I hope you get a chance to have that too.
What are some of the different types of perspectives you hope or wish to gain during your semester away? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!
Until next time,
Known as The Study Abroad Specialist, Kimber Grayson is a serial-study abroader turned International Education coach and expert. Since 2014, she has helped 100+ students navigate their semester away journey from the coastal areas of Spain to China and every place in between. In 2018, she launched The LiveStudyLearn™ Abroad Association, a one-of-a-kind online membership platform for study abroad students worldwide.
She holds two Master's degrees from two well-respected London-based universities and has experience working in the US, UK & and Italy.
In her spare time (what's that again?), she enjoys leisure travel city breaks, any snow-based activity, skeet shooting, and attempting to learn new languages.