I am sitting in the airport on my way back home, and since it will be a 48 hour plus journey due to plane maintenance, I have some time to reflect on the past semester. I have learned a lot about myself, about Australia, and about the way the world views the U.S. It has truly been the adventure of a lifetime, thanks to the people I have met, the places I have been, and the things I was able to do. While it is fresh in my mind, and I am thinking back over everything for myself, I want to pass on a few pieces of advice for study abroad, or even travel in general.
Don’t Be Afraid…
To Travel Alone: While travelling with friends/family is a great time, the experience of making every decision, meeting all new people, and acting however you choose can be very valuable as well.
To Try New Things: Sometimes, life seems to work like food. Picky eaters often have never actually tried the foods they say they dislike. In this case, it might be rock climbing, partying, fishing, scuba diving, bungee jumping, etc that are worth breaking through your boundaries and expanding your horizons. It gives you a deeper knowledge of the way the world works, and can lead to the discovery of a new passion or just fun memories.
To Meet New People: It is far too easy to play it safe and hang out with the group of people you first meet when abroad. Meeting new people can be hard, for some more than others, but I highly encourage you to never decide that you have enough new friends, or that it isn’t worth getting to know people while abroad. It is incredible how much insight you can gain from a single conversation, and you never know when global connections and friends will come in handy or when you will see people again, plus, social media makes it easy to stay in touch with the people you meet, even without any effort.
To Question Your Worldview: I am not sure what I was expecting to learn at the beginning of the semester, but I know it had a lot more to do with the subjects I would be lectured on rather than the intangible, invaluable relationships, insights, and memories I have gained, that will last me a lifetime.
Get Out There and Do…
Things You Have Always Wanted To Do: Obviously, do whatever drew you abroad in the first place. In my case it was the reef, and I ended up with 16 Great Barrier Reef dives. Whatever it is, make it happen.
Things You Are Too Tired To Do: I can’t say I was the best at this, but the semester flies by, so you need to take advantage of opportunities when they come along. I would sometimes think that it might be nice to go into town, or to the beach, or fishing, whatever it might be, and then think about the bus or bike ride and decide that I was too tired. Try to avoid this as much as you can. It will happen, but things usually end up being fun if you get out there and just do stuff.
Things You Never Wanted To Do: In some ways, the entire study abroad experience is about change, and pushing boundaries. You leave all the people that you know and love, get on a plane and fly to some place that is supposed to be awesome, to study, do the tourist thing, and meet people. It all requires coping with change, an invaluable skill in life. Along these same lines, try new foods, talk to people you might not usually talk to, do something that scares the crap out of you.
Whatever You Have To Do To Not Have Any Regrets: When you fly home, the last thing you want to have is regrets, you want memories. I did ok, but when I look back, there are still days that I watched a movie when I should have been climbing a mountain, jumping off a waterfall, or catching a fish. At least for me, it is unlikely that I will make it back to Australia in the near future, so spending an extended period of time there was awesome.
Be Prepared For…
Differences, Both Expected and Unexpected: You are prepared for the accents, but do you know every word that is pronounced funny, is taboo in the U.S. but not elsewhere, do you know the reasons behind prostitution being legal there, how the health care system works, etc. Sometimes, you can rely on the locals you meet to help you through cultural differences, but other times, they take things for granted, and don’t realize what might be different or stressful for you. The final exams here are very formal, with a strict procedure, script, and many rules. I learned from the mistakes I made in the first one, and despite asking ahead of time, there were a lot of unknowns.
Low-Points: This seems to come up in about every blog post like this, but that is likely because it is valid, not every second of every day will be the dream vacation you imagined. For a number of reasons, one being that you are still studying, and will have rough weeks with many assignments, but also just the fact that things happen. You might miss a flight, lose money, get hurt, be unprepared for something. Whatever it is, I hope you take it in stride and do your best to make the best of it.
Meeting A Completely New Group Of Friends, and Then Leaving: As I have mentioned, you should meet as many people as you can, and take a genuine interest in them as individuals, not just see them as “locals”. That said, leaving behind that group is a hard thing to do. Realistically, it will be a long time, if you ever see them again, and that being the case, some students see study abroad students as “this semester’s crop”, and I can’t really blame them. In order to move past that, you can show them that you want to become part of the school, not just observe. Whether that is simple through conversations, or joining sports teams, etc, it can definitely be done.
Calling A New Place Home: As I did when I first moved to university, I found a new place to call home. Pretty quickly, I felt I was in the right place, and I was very comfortable there. It made leaving harder, but it made my semester special. It was no longer a vacation, it was a new home, and that is special, and a something that is hard to get outside of study abroad.
You can view more of Eric’s incredible photos on his personal website.