I can pinpoint when my life completely turned upside down for the better. It was when I was living in Germany studying abroad for 4 months. Even though it was a short amount of time, it was long enough to change my outlook on life in so many ways.
The only negative to my study abroad experience was that it had to end. I actually looked into spending another semester abroad my senior year but because I had my upper level marketing classes, it was not possible to take these classes overseas.
Deciding to Study Abroad
I attended college at Michigan State which has one of the country’s largest study abroad programs, sending more than 2,000 students a year overseas.
The study abroad program held an informational meeting which I went to check out. The meeting showcased the programs that the university offered and students who had studied abroad shared their experiences. The passion that the students had when they spoke about their time abroad was completely intriguing. While I wasn’t originally considering studying abroad, it was now something that I knew I had to do.
Figuring out Where to Study Abroad
I began looking at programs that fit my business major requirements which I narrowed down to two very different options – Bruchsal, Germany or Bangkok, Thailand.
- Easy to travel around Europe
- Less culture shock
- Spending time in Germany (the country my ancestors came from)
- Small town
- Small university
- Cold weather
- Less popular study abroad program
- Popular study abroad program
- Warm weather
- Great housing accomodations
- Large university
- Large city
- More culture shock
- Harder to travel around Asia than Europe
Since it was a huge life decision, I consulted with my parents on my options. They pushed me to choose Germany because not only was it was a safer option (which made them feel better) but it would be easy for me to travel around Europe on the weekends.
I signed up to study abroad the spring semester of my junior year. I was lucky enough to have a friend who was studying abroad during the fall semester (ironically in Bangkok) so we were able to split our lease.
Challenging Me as a Person
While I knew that the German program was less popular, I have to say I was still a little surprised that I was the only MSU student attending the program during the spring semester.
Being alone forced me to be social, making friends with new people who were from different places around the world.It turned out to be an amazing chance of luck as I went overseas without any sort of safety net. I was completely pushed outside of my comfort zone – alone in a country where I knew nobody and barely spoke the language. I believe that because of this I had a much more enriching experience than if I had gone on a program with many people from my university. Being alone forced me to be social, making friends with new people who were from different places around the world.
Before I left for the program I was seriously dating my college boyfriend. In my mind I had my life planned out but as I was overseas I started to see things very differently. About 1 week into my study abroad, I realized that I wasn’t ready to settle down. I knew that I needed to spread my wings and see the world before I could be anyone’s wife. While it is never a good feeling to have to end things, I knew that it had to be done. I firmly believe that had I not studied abroad I would have never had this epiphany and would be living a completely different life.
Learning That There Are Other Ways of Living
I was shocked that by look and mannerism only, people were able to pinpoint me as an American. To see how other countries perceive America was a very eye opening experience. Growing up in America we are conditioned to believe that we are the best and that everyone else loves us – obviously this is not universally true.
As I interacted with students from all over the world, I began to realize that there were many different ways of thinking that were very different from my own. Instead of holding steadfast to my beliefs, I started to listen and absorb different ways of thinking. My generally conservative views were being challenged by very liberal views that when I really thought about them made sense. I now sit squarely in the middle of the spectrum, often conflicted with how to vote as I see both sides of the political arguments.
Instilled My Love of Travel
I was 20 years old and had all of Europe as my playground.One of my big reservations of studying abroad was feeling like I would miss something back on campus – this could not have been further from the truth. When my friends were going out to a bar or party, I was hopping a train to spend the weekend in Berlin. I was 20 years old and had all of Europe as my playground.
As a college student with limited funds, you would think that traveling would be financially challenging but it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I learned that by traveling frugally I was able to travel more often so I got good at being really thrifty.
We saved money by:
- Purchasing a Eurorail pass
- Splitting a hotel room 3 ways which ended up being cheaper than staying at a hostel – but also required us to sleep 3 wide on a queen size bed
- Used public transportation to get around town, never taxis
- Ate at less expensive restaurants
- Purchased wine at the store and would drink it before we went out to the clubs
Once I started to see how much there was to see in the world and how inexpensive it was to travel, it made me want to explore more. I had gotten the travel bug and had it really bad.
Shifted My Focus from School to Life
I was fortunate that my credits were transferred back to my university as a pass or fail. This meant that if I got a 4.0 or a 2.0, it would show up as credit without a grade on my transcript. This was exactly what I needed to help me relax – the ability to learn without the pressures of the grades.
While I only studied a fraction of the time that I did back home and my grades were significantly worse, I learned a lot about life and myself.
Why I Believe Everyone Should Study Abroad
- There may never be a chance in your life to live overseas.
- Ability to grow as a person.
- You won’t miss anything back on campus.
- You will regret not going when you are older.
If you want to experience different cultures and see the world there is no better opportunity than when you are in college. You don’t have any firm roots set and are easily able to pick up your life and go.
College is a time about discovering who you are and who you want to become. Mixing with people from all over the world may change your perspective on who you are and who you truly want to become.
One of my biggest concerns about going overseas was that I was going to miss something back on campus. You may feel like you are going to miss something, but compared to the experiences that you’ll be living, there is no comparison.
Every single one of my friends who did not study abroad are now kicking themselves for not going. They are fully in the corporate world now which is not an easy thing to escape. They are still able to travel for short amounts of time but can never fully experience living in a different culture.
Study abroad was single handedly the best decision that I made during my 4 years in college. I had a lot of fun and saw a lot of really cool things, but more than that I grew as a person.
When you are deciding where to go, dream big. Don’t do the summer program because you don’t want to miss something on campus. Don’t shy away from countries where you don’t speak the language. Challenge yourself to go on a less popular program where you have no safety net. Experiencing the culture overseas is only part of the experience, your internal growth will be what will surprise you the most.
I often thought about Bangkok and wondered if I made the right decision by going to Germany. After being haunted by this for over 10 years, I went to Bangkok during my honeymoon. After being there, I was finally able to say with 100% confidence that I made the right decision. While I love Asia, I think that at that time in my life, Europe was the right decision.