“Studying abroad made me realize what is truly important to me in life, and helped me to clarify my personal goals, both long-term and short-term.”
I had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States when I was in middle school, which started my interest in learning about and experiencing cultures and life outside of my home country. Around this same time, a cousin of mine did Semester at Sea – a combination of my trip abroad with hearing about my cousin’s amazing experience traveling the world on a ship made me sure that I would try to do Semester at Sea during college.
During my time in Marrakech, Morocco, I really learned how to trust people – in order to find your way through the city’s seemingly endless winding alleyways, you need to ask a local person to guide you. In my experience in America, I was always taught that I should never follow a man I just met down a maze of dark alleyways at 1 a.m. into a place he called a hostel, but that’s the way things function in that country. People really aren’t as scary as they are made out to be.
The biggest challenge was converting money – the nature of my program was that we were in a new country every week, so finding exchange locations.
There was no typical day for me, as each day was in a new city or country. However, when I was on the ship (in between ports), I would wake up, have breakfast with friends or a professor while watching the sunrise over the water, spend some time in class, go to work (I was a work study student), then attend lectures or talks presented by the faculty, play soccer upstairs, and watch the sun set. Perhaps stargazing or game night would follow. In port, my days ranged from seeing a Russian Ballet to going to a Barcelona soccer game to waking up in a hammock and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon river.
I took atlantic history, world art history, documentary photography and GIS while abroad. While I learned a lot in my classes, they were easier than Berkeley classes as far as content alone was concerned. Studying abroad is about applying the things you learn in class to the real world, and I believe you learn more in your time away from class/exploring the country than you could ever learn in a classroom. It’s pretty great to learn about the Mona Lisa on a lecture slide, then be able to see it in real life the next day, though.
Even though I saw some incredible things, the community on my ship was the most important part, which I unfortunately did not realize until the end of my voyage. When else would I have the opportunity to live just down the hall from my favorite professor, wake up each morning with all my friends in a new country, and have to walk 20 feet to get from my house to my class to the store and back again?
Studying abroad made me realize what is truly important to me in life, and helped me to clarify my personal goals, both long-term and short-term. For instance, before I went abroad I was entertaining the idea of working for the Peace Corps post graduation. Now that I have spent multiple months completely cut-off from my family, friends, and life back home, I have learned that not only can I learn, live, and experience cultures and customs outside of my comfort zone, but I can thrive.
Do things that you are not comfortable with. You will learn more that way – eat strange food, be more trusting, and try new things. I recommend joining a program somewhere that you will be an ethnic minority, you don’t speak the language, or even a place you have never heard of before. It will be hard to adjust, but it will make the most positive impact on your life that way.