We all have that friend who studied abroad two years ago and hasn’t stopped talking about it. Or everyone you know has disappeared to Europe this summer and Instagram is littered with their experiences.
Well, they may have something to say that’s worth hearing.
Last month, I was sitting in a restaurant in the Czech Republic listening to German patrons and the host speak in broken English, trying to find a language both parties were comfortable with. If it were me, and probably many other American students who didn’t take a higher foreign language class than was absolutely required, my native language is really all I can offer. This exchange was incredible to observe and to ponder—and I wouldn’t have this experience without studying abroad.
I just returned from the six-week UGA-à-Paris program. I decided to study abroad to be inspired and challenged, to gain a new perspective on life and to get to know myself a little better. As much as I love Athens, I couldn’t expect this experience with the same old college routine. Was it life-changing? Yes. Did we all gain weight from the baguettes? Without a doubt.
If nothing more, studying abroad shows you life outside of the U.S. I haven’t taken a world history class since the tenth grade, and even my vague remembrance of that doesn’t do the real world justice. In the U.S., we don’t focus on matters outside of our country, let alone our continent. I was amazed at how many people in France recognized Georgia as a state, knew where it was and even knew about Atlanta. Whereas I started my trip not even knowing that France has both a president and a prime minister.
I can’t help but feel offensive. France can take the time to teach their students about U.S. history and current affairs but we don’t take any more time on their country than a single chapter on the French Revolution.
As spoiled Americans, it can be frustrating too. It’s nice that Europe is so much more energy conservative, but some days you just really want ice water after walking all day. Or ice served in your water at all.
But this exactly why you should study abroad. Especially with the longer programs, it comes to the point you are no longer are a tourist, but adapting to an entirely different culture.
And this leads to my main advice: don’t leave Hartsfield-Jackson with a closed mind, stereotypes or a preconceived notion that American culture is the best one there is. Trying to learn and follow the norms of where you are is imperative. I knew zero French, but I memorized several phrases, never assuming that English would be so commonly spoken. And it was appreciated that I at least tried.
As far as missing home and Chick-Fil-A, I was always aware of the six week-long commitment I made and never lost the feeling of awe of being in a new place. And I did not complain for things being done differently from my schemata, but welcomed it. . . .