We all have our own journey and mine started by studying abroad in Australia and then Cyprus. I’ve traveled to over 30 countries and I’ve advised over 1,500 students on their way to study abroad. I’ve broken down my 3 most important pieces of advice to all of my students and fellow travelers:
1. Travel without expectation
The best thing you can do when studying abroad is to go without expectations. You cannot fully prepare for what you’ll encounter and learn throughout your travels. This doesn’t mean to go without learning about the culture, cities and some local language; but, this means to be open to learning your most memorable lessons by trying to figure out the city metro, by an unexpected conversation with a local or a mistake turned into a great experience.
I’ll never forget running onto a ferry in Athens, Greece as it pulled away from the harbor to learn my friends and I ran onto the completely “wrong” ferry because of a language barrier. Initially, all of us panicked and didn’t know what to do. It was a blessing in disguise. We made the most of the situation and ended up visiting the three most beautiful, remote and incredibly culturally rich islands I’ve ever seen. To this day it’s still one of my favorite days abroad.
2. Never underestimate the power of a single encounter with a local abroad
One thing I tell all of my friends and students is that everywhere you go abroad, you’ll be representing the United States. Likely the people you meet abroad will have some preconceived opinions of Americans, but it’s your responsibility to be an ambassador for our country and represent us well.
This means watching your surroundings to see what is the cultural norm. This means being aware of your volume and tone when you’re traveling in public spaces with friends. This means being patient and kind as you learn about other cultures.
For example, I’ll never forget speaking English with students in Vietnam. A group of school girls approached me in a giggly, nervous, excited fashion. I had no idea what to expect. After patiently waiting to hear their message, I realized they could tell I was a native English speaker and simply wanted to learn from having a conversation.
We shared our names, where we came from, what the weather was like at home and the fun things we do for pleasure. I too learned about their life at home and some cultural norms. This exercise was technically for them, but I walked away feeling absolutely blessed to have a single interaction this such driven, bright and inspiring young girls. I have since followed in their footsteps and started talking language courses back at home.
3. Take time to reflect
This may come naturally for some, and others you’ll have to be intentional. This may mean listening to music thinking about your day, or it may be writing a public blog for friends and family. Regardless of how you get there, I cannot stress how important self-reflection is. During your time abroad you’ll be mentally, emotionally and physically stimulated most of the time. You’ll be experiencing so many things for the first time and likely moving fast to get to everything you want to do.
Personally, I journal during my study abroad trips and I posted on a public blog. However, my most memorable moment of reflection was standing atop this cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Cyprus with a few good friends. I started to reflect on how I got there; how my hard work and amazing support system made it all possible. I thought about how grateful I was for my new friends abroad. I thought about how lucky I was to have all these new, unexpected, wonderful and challenging experiences on a daily basis. I pondered ways to give back and continue to improve and build my global competence. To this day this moment still brings back an unwavering sense of pure joy and gratitude.
I wish you all the best on your upcoming travels, especially keeping these three tips in mind! Want to chat more? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.