Three weeks ago, I left the United States for the first time in my life to fly across an ocean to a country that was very different from my own, and I was nervous and unsure of myself, of course, but I was never afraid. I never once thought to hold onto my own culture with a death grip because I was afraid of change or having to sacrifice comfort to embrace a new culture.
But since being here, I’ve realized that not everyone is like me in this sense. Not everyone is able to leave their way of life behind I’m favor of a new, temporary one. Most people are terrified of change, even if it results in their own betterment.
There is a difference between tourism and studying abroad. When you’re a tourist, you can wear cheesy American clothes and use phrase books and refuse to adapt all you want without caring what the locals think. But when you study abroad, you are so immersed in the culture, acting like a tourist feels so wrong. You WANT to learn the language, not just get by on phrases. You WANT to dress like a local and blend in as much as possible. You CARE what others think because you have chosen to make their lifestyle your lifestyle, and you want to be accepted.
When you leave one world and enter another, you are leaving behind familiarity, comfort, and security and must embrace change, distance, and discomfort in order to grow yourself. If you refuse to do this, you are just a tourist, a passerby who only wants a temporary view into another culture. But when you choose to study abroad, you choose change. You choose discomfort. You choose a new way of living for the sake of learning. And by study abroad, you not only get more out of your education, but your life as well.
If you’re considering studying abroad, ask yourself this question: Am I willing to be uncomfortable in a strange place in order to learn and grow on a different level? If yes, studying abroad is for you and you will love it. If not, that’s ok. Go for a week and sight-see instead. Studying abroad is not for the closed-minded or faint-of-heart. It takes a lot of guts to immerse yourself in another culture, and it’s not for everyone. But it’s definitely been the best experience of my life.