Studying or volunteering abroad is a huge risk in and of itself; there are many unknowns when it comes to traveling. Live abroad with the same open-mindedness and courage as well! If you do exactly what you would already do at home, you won’t grow as an individual.
When I arrived in France at age 20, it was only my second time in Europe and I had a fear of speaking French with strangers. With that said, however, I knew my French wouldn’t improve unless I did so. Instead of approaching a stranger at the station asking when my train would arrive, I asked in French and my use of the language continued to improve.
If you never make mistakes, you never learn! Living life out of routine or far from perfection is actually an advantage while living abroad. In Sweden, I would attempt speaking Swedish while combining it with French by default. I definitely made a fool of myself on more than one occasion, especially when ordering food! But if I wouldn’t have made mistakes while speaking Swedish, I wouldn’t have learned and I was able to jump out of my English-language comfort zone even more.
I traveled to Paris with my friend one weekend while studying abroad, and we couldn’t find our way to the hotel for a while. It was intimidating because it was nighttime and many of the metro stations had stopped running until morning, but it taught me so much about myself. I learned that I had to resort back to the basics (I had no cellular data) and I was forced to rely on myself, even though I was panicking at times. Getting lost, with limitations of course, can make you find yourself again, as strange as that sounds!
Make friendship a priority
While volunteering in Thailand, I befriended many Americans and Canadians, but also many Europeans and people from Asia. The beauty of traveling is that you can make friends from all over the globe. The world is much smaller than the United States you know!
Don’t stress about money
This is MUCH easier said than done, trust me! But each time I have traveled abroad, I have learned to not “penny pinch” like I do at home; live with caution, order the dessert, too! No one is stopping you but yourself. I don’t regret a single dime I spent on Thai iced tea, Swedish pastries, gelato, or German beer, no matter how broke I was.
Live day by day
As a student, I was very type A: organized, planner always in-hand. However, while studying abroad, I seldom had a “schedule.” I would go with the flow and live very type B in comparison. I traveled to twelve countries when I studied in Sweden for five months, and I wouldn’t have been able to do so with too much structure. One weekend I was in Germany, the next in Budapest, and the following in Spain; I lived life to the fullest and I never looked back!
While traveling or living abroad, not everything will be like home (maybe even the exact opposite). Not everyone will act or think like you; be not only aware, but embracing of this. While studying in France, I was able to learn about other Americans and how my friends in other states lived, as well as learning about French culture through my host family. In Sweden, I was one of six Americans in an eighty-student cohort; I befriended people from Finland, France, Macau, China, and Greece just to name a few places! In Thailand, I was among volunteers from all over the world, immersed in a new way of life.
Embrace cultural and religious diversity! You will appreciate your travel experiences much more if you have an open mind and heart.
I get a little teary eyed whenever I document my travels because of all the memories! :’-)