Living in Europe changed my life and my mindset for the better, and now I believe that every college student should study abroad before graduating. I know it’s a commonly said cliché, but you have the opportunity to find yourself, to learn how to adapt when you lose control, let go of the obstacles that keep you in your comfort zone and allow yourself to be lost for a while. Who doesn’t want to be lost in beautiful cities like Paris, Vienna, Dublin or London (or my personal favorite city, Lyon)? Yes, traveling can be expensive. However, the benefits of traveling or studying abroad before graduating from college outweighs any cons.
In winter semester of 2017, I studied abroad in Lyon, France, for six months. Those six months were the most challenging, rewarding and amazing days of my life thus far. Living and traveling among various European countries taught me so much about myself and about the vast differences between Americans and Europeans. My way of thinking expanded In France; there are so many beautiful parks, outside cafés, stunning old architecture and ruins and places to simply sit and talk with your friends. The current pace of American life and culture is mostly about possessions, money and instant gratification. We do not take time to slow down and enjoy our lives.
Before traveling, I did the same. I was stuck in the monotonous rush of day-to-day living without actually living. In France, I was in class for about 25-30 hours per week (much more than at SVSU), but the overall pace was so much more relaxed, so I never felt overly stressed or rushed in my daily life. I lingered over delicious cappuccinos in cafés, struck up conversations with people in bars and talked for hours over dinner with friends.
On weekends or during winter break, my friends and I found cheap flights and flew to new countries to explore. We took 14€ bus trips to new cities and split 30€ Airbnb’s and slept on couches. We got lost almost constantly and couldn’t use our phones. In cities like Budapest, where we didn’t speak a word of Hungarian, we rode the metro and buses for about three hours until we finally figured out how to find our Airbnb. I realized that pushing myself so completely out of my comfort zone and not being able to rely on basic comforts pushed me to a new level of independence and self-confidence.
If I hadn’t chosen to take a chance and study abroad, I would have never discovered my love for travel. I would’ve never understood how to be OK on my own, in a foreign city, speaking a language that was not my first language. But the most useful skill I learned by living in Europe was flexibility. Flexibility to switch from French to English mid-sentence. Flexibility to communicate with people from different countries and cultures. Flexibility to handle foreign school work and still succeed. Flexibility to objectively see the advantages and disadvantages of my own country.
I have an edge when applying to graduate schools and jobs. I can tell my future prospective employers about the multiple social, cultural, communication and language skills I gained from my semester abroad. Studying, living and traveling to and in other countries gives college students who push to explore and expand their comfort zones and be a well-rounded person of the world. I’m so grateful that I made the decision to study abroad instead of waiting for the usual, “Oh I’ll do it after college, after retirement, after – .” Because no one knows what the future will hold. So, go travel now. Go find yourself now. Go live now.