Welcome to Part Two of “10 Reasons Every Girl Should Study Abroad,” a treatise on what studying abroad meant to me as a woman, traveler, and human being — and why you should do it! Be sure to also read Part One in case you missed it.
I spent an academic year tripping over cobblestones in Prague, and those were some of the best nine months of my life. I may not have always been ecstatically happy, but I learned more about myself and the world than I ever thought possible. Here are 11 reasons every girl should study abroad — Part Two!
6. To get past the tourist perspective
Traveling as a tourist can be great, but it is a distinctly different experience to studying abroad. The latter often allows the opportunity to break past the tourist or even expat experience to a cultural immersion more akin to actually living in the country. The level of immersion will be what you make it. Do you want to live with a host family? Will you volunteer to teach English to locals looking to learn? There are a thousand different decisions you make everyday that inform how far past the surface of a country and its culture you will delve.
Whatever your dating preference(s) may be, studying abroad will open you up to a whole new prospective dating pool. And they have accents! They may also look like Disney characters. One Czech student affiliated with my study abroad program famously looked like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. (He was much nicer.) Cross-cultural flirting can be fun, and even teach you something about social practices and the ways in which dating cultural does or doesn’t vary from country to country. Who knows? You may even find someone special. Though I didn’t have any meaningful romantic encounters while in Prague, I have a number of friends who found love during their time abroad.
8. To be alone
I’ve focused a lot on the connections that can define your study abroad experience, but one of the relationships that saw the most growth during my time abroad was the one I have with myself.
It may sound cheesy, but removing myself from the relationships and culture that defined me was a great way to better understand who I am and who I want to be.
I can’t say I always felt comfortable or whole in myself, but there were moments of triumphant clarity that left me feeling so sure in my own skin and like something more than the sum of the identities often forced upon me. This remains one of my favorite feelings, and one I feel most intensely when traveling.
9. To spend some time as tourist
Speaking of travel, studying abroad can be a great launch pad for your new existence as part-time tourist! I could never understand the people who left Prague every weekend to visit another country — there was so much to explore in the city and country we have moved to — but I made the occasional foray to nearby countries. During my year abroad, I managed to visit: Austria, Poland, England, Croatia, Kosovo, Greece, Bosnia, Italy, Macedonia, and Switzerland. Not bad for a girl who had previously never been outside of the United States!
10. To see strange and wonderful art
You haven’t lived until you’ve caught a black light theater performance in Prague or the water puppetry show in Hanoi. The world is full of strange and wonderful art forms waiting to confound and delight. During my academic year in Prague, I went to the opera, symphony, and movie theater as much as possible. There is so much culture — both form and content — that never makes it outside of its country. You have to visit these places to see it, and there’s something enhancing about seeing these pieces of art in the place they were created.
Study abroad orientations often include a discussion about the perils of reverse culture shock. That’s right, just when you think you’ve acclimated to a new way of living, you return home to realize you yourself have changed and may not fit in as easily as you did before you left.
Coming down off of the study abroad high can be tough (and annoying to those friends and family members who have to hear the same stories again and again), but it is also part of the learning experience.
In studying abroad, I learned as much about the place I had left behind as I did the place I ventured to. Constants I assumed universal began to vary, and that gave me invaluable perspective into myself and my home that would have been hard to garner without ever leaving. And where’s the fun in that? To me, travel is a symptom of my insatiable desire to figure out the world and my place in it — a necessary pursuit, it not an impossible one. And, understanding my complex connection to the concept of “home” is a huge part of that. There’s nothing like traveling to the other side of the world to discover you belong.
Kayti Burt is a television blogger, photographer, and chronic vagabond. Growing up in rural New Hampshire, she didn’t have much opportunity to travel as a kid, but is making up for it as an adult. She had her first long-term experience abroad in Prague on a year-long study abroad program in college. More recently, she spent three months on the “Banana Pancake Trail” in Southeast Asia. As an introverted traveler, Kayti’s favorite way to explore the world is in long, involved adventures featuring plenty of museums, plays, and ambling walks with her Canon Rebel in one hand and her journal in the other. You can follow Kayti on Twitter and Google+.