I started university with the knowledge that, given the chance I was definitely going to do a study abroad programme. I’ve always loved travel and loved languages at school so I definitely wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to pursue these passions. I also wanted to get more life experience before graduating - my desired profession means that you kind of have to have your life sorted out by second year so a year abroad essentially let me do second year twice! I've been living and studying in Barcelona for eight months now and I can honestly say studying abroad has completely exceeded my expectations (see my post on my first impressions here!). It's probably one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life because not only have I learnt so much about myself, I now have multiple stories that start with "When I was living in Barcelona" which definitely makes my life seem 10 times cooler, right?
If it’s something you’re on the fence about or have even ever remotely considered, here are seven reasons why I think you should study abroad.
I won’t lie - cultural differences are pretty hard to get your head around. I mean why is there siesta time? Why do Spanish banks only do a half day? Why is it normal to have dinner at 9pm? However, one thing that a study abroad year really teaches you is not to question or belittle cultural differences that are so foreign (pardon the pun) to your own. It teaches you simply to embrace them - you kind of have to otherwise daily life may become a source of great frustration. It also makes you more adaptable to different environments.
2) You get to experience life truly out of your comfort zone
You know what they say - life is what happens when you step out of your comfort zone. Stepping out of your comfort zone is definitely something everyone should do regularly. It’s a major confidence booster when you step out of your comfort zone and actually succeed. It can also teach you lessons about yourself as well as teaching you how to be more positive in the face of failure. What better way to break the status quo than to pick up sticks and move to a different country. You’ll constantly be facing new challenges whether they’re big or small and when you overcome them, well your confidence will go through the roof! Whilst in Barcelona, some of the biggest personal challenges I’ve faced were taking Spanish only taught pole classes and Spanish only taught Law classes, walking 10km in one day (impressive feat for someone who regularly drove to the corner shop), I’ve navigated public transport at night (again driving or taxis are the norm at home).
3) It’s the opportunity to learn a new language or improve a language you already speak
Let me just put this out there. You’d be a fool if you went on a study abroad placement and did not return with improved language skills. You’re given a very rare opportunity to immerse yourself completely in a foreign language and culture. Trust me there is no better classroom. I’d been learning Spanish for about six years prior to studying in Barcelona and I definitely would not have considered myself conversational. However 3 months into my study abroad programme and I was confident enough to have 30 minute conversations with people - all in Spanish. Fast forward to 6 months in and I switch between Spanish and English almost without thinking. Plus in our increasingly globalised world speaking more than one language is almost a basic requirement.
4) You get to explore a city in ways you’ve never explored it before
If the typical tourist experience bores you, well then studying and living in a city is the ultimate fix. You can discover hidden spots to hang out in and explore neighbourhoods that are off the beaten track. If touristy attractions are exactly what you came for, depending on how long you're away you'll have the chance to tick a significant amount off your bucket list. The main difference however, is unlike when you visit for the weekend, you'll know how to avoid tourist traps, dodgy taxi drivers and peak times because you'll have the benefit of some insider knowledge.
5) You gain independence
When you move to a different country you're forced to fix up - you have to be independent and fairly self-sufficient. Yes, I know, uni is a big jump in terms of being independent but Mum and Dad usually aren’t so far away that a quick phone call or a quick train home can’t fix it all. However, when you’re in a different country, the cost of flights (mind you it’s usually cheaper for me to fly from Barcelona back to Birmingham than it is for me to get the train back from Newcastle) and, you know, little things like the sea or national borders that separate you may make such visits a little harder to achieve. You’re essentially forced to sort your own life out 90% of the time - difficult at times but such a good life lesson!
6) You become less materialistic
Luggage allowances, smaller rooms and multiple moves will have you more willing than ever to part with stuff you really have no use for anymore. Flights back and forth will have you “travelling light” like an absolute pro. After weeks of trying to find a suitable flat, you’ll no longer care whether you have you have a double bed and enough space to do a cartwheel, you’ll simply be grateful for a place to rest your head.
7) You meet the most amazing and interesting people from all over the world and they quickly become some of your closest friends.
The people you meet on study abroad placements are so diverse - coming from all over the world and at different stages in their lives. It is an amazing opportunity to get to know such a varied group of people. Whether you meet them fleetingly in a club or become lifelong buddies, the sheer range of the people you meet can be inspiring and totally change your perspective on life. I wholeheartedly believe that you should always surround yourself with people who inspire you and challenge you to continually improve yourself and there will be no shortage of such people on a study abroad placement. Whether it’s someone who’s already travelled so much of the world and is just about to exit student life, someone who is super knowledgeable about art or politics, or someone whose spontaneity makes you feel alive and energised - they all have a lesson to teach you, an opinion to give and they all can expand your mind in some way.
Not only will you meet an amazing bunch of inspiring people but the friendships you make on a study abroad placement honestly aren’t like any other friendships you’ll make in your life. The bonds you form are so strong, because you’ve all been pushed out of your comfort zone. You all already share a curiosity about the world, and you’re all united by your study abroad experience. In such a short space of time you really do start to wonder whether you could have got through this experience without these people - or where exactly they've been all your life. It can feel like you’ve known someone your whole life even if it’s only been 6 months. They are your closest and most tangible support network and you’ll always know that everyone understands the struggles that may occasionally crop up when you’re so far away from home.
Have you studied abroad? Comment below or Tweet your best study abroad experience!
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