There are incredible benefits to studying abroad for your full degree: travel, culture, education quality, and impressive job opportunities. Studying abroad grants eye-opening experiences. Previously, I have not delved into the details of the lessons that I have learnt, but as I come to the end of my longest time spent away from home (over a year), now seems like the right moment.
Lesson 1: I am very lucky
I’ve always known I was fairly lucky, but after moving to England the scope of the matter became much clearer. Thanks to my parents, I can focus on my studies without the worry of tuition and travel Europe with money I save on the side. As there is not the same expectation that their parents will fund their tuition, most students I know in England have student loans. Side jobs and cutting costs is typical. I had the idea that if you really wanted to do something, you would just reprioritize your spending. One of moments that revealed discrepancies in that philosophy was when I wanted to go to Disneyland with a couple friends, but they just didn’t have the money. I was confused that they couldn’t make it happen if they wanted to. It sounds like a very silly lesson to learn, but understanding the situation of my close friends has been an important lesson that I can relate to other people I meet. It is not that they didn’t want to go or didn’t work a side job, it was that life is expensive and hard work does not always mean having the money to do what you want all the time. Even with most of my life expenses covered, I have learnt to budget. This year, where I am paying my own way with the money I make on placement, I feel the strains and pressures of not having enough money. It’s really eye-opening to understand other people’s situations. I am breaking out of the bubble.
Beyond just money, the education and work opportunities in England are hard to come by in many countries. The University of Surrey is very diverse and the vast array of people from various countries and cultures makes Surrey unique. I learn incredible amounts by asking questions to get a first-hand look into everyday life elsewhere. I always ask, “Why did you come to England?” and the response is almost always: there is better education and I can get significantly better job opportunities if I have studied in the UK. For many people in poorer EU countries and abroad, the UK is a gateway to a better life. Now I won’t get too political, but without EU students being able to pay “in country” tuition prices in the UK, I wonder what the quality of life will be for these people. With Brexit looming over the country, this question remains unanswered.
Lesson 2: Everything has its faults
Loyalty is in the heart of every American. We are taught from a very young age to love America and strive to abide by its values. This devotion has made an impression on the rest of the world. I came to England with reservations about certain things that America does, like everyone has, but hearing other people question America made me defensive. I started to defend and offer insight into America’s actions. I didn’t think that people understood Americans and America. I have always been happy in America and I didn’t want my section of America to be lumped in with the craziness that was happening elsewhere. I had a hard time admitting faults even if deep down I knew they were true.
It wasn’t until I learnt more about other governments and engaged with different perspectives that I began to admit faults and accept the pro’s and con’s. It is an important skill for all things in life. The ability to criticize and learn from mistakes will let me evaluate the world and my own work more objectively.
Lesson 3: The more you travel, the more you learn
When I first moved to Europe, my travels were just seeing the sites, but as I became more comfortable in new environments, I started to explore a bit more. I began speaking to friends from around the world to get a local’s advice about how to embrace the culture. People are proud of where they come from and love to share. Getting out of the city and venturing into small towns is the highlight of my trips. To make this easier, I take lots of full day tours. Now I recognize that only tourists would do these tours, but they show you a different side of the country and grant a more natural impression of the lifestyle. The guides are always very knowledgeable and give a further insight into the history of the country.
Hostels are an amalgamation of diversity of all kinds. Meeting people in hostels introduces you to entirely different ways of life. I am inspired by those who have been traveling non-stop for years and people who plan their next day’s destination based on the advice from other people in the hostel. The stories are countless and the memories innumerable. Most people follow the “equation for life”: go to school, get a job, get married, have a family, and retire. Hearing about alternative lifestyles is an incredible way to break free of the standard. Planning each step of my journey, while effective, is not as interesting as spontaneity. I am making the effort to relax and adapt to a new situations. My last couple trips, I have barely looked them up at all to maintain that element of surprise and flexibility on my adventure. This approach has led to 5 euro tickets to the Vienna State Opera and wine tasting in Tuscany’s wine region.
The most influential part of traveling is learning about the state of the world. When I travel, I almost always stay in hostels. Typically they are fairly nice or at least reasonable for my short visit. The hostel we stayed in Athens, will stay with me forever. My sister and I were walking through this lovely, posh district in Athens on our way back to the hostel. In a matter of a block or two, we entered a vastly different district that was significantly poorer and run down. The stark contrast was really rather shocking. Inside our hostel, the bottom two floors were occupied by refugees. Tiny children ran around playing, happy that they were safe. Traveling made the refugee crisis real and brought extreme poverty into the light. As much as we can ignore what is happening around the world, these lives are real. My efforts to help others have increased since. I’ll never forget that experience.
In a time where division between groups of people is gaining more and more attention, travel has never been more important. The best way to remove stereotypes is to embrace others by simply getting to know different people. There was a proposal to provide EU citizens who turn 18 years old with an interrailing pass (train pass for Europe) that would allow young people to travel Europe with limited costs. I was inspired by this proposal. Not only is it allowing less fortunate people to travel, it is an innovative way to get the EU to connect with each other. If you travel to a country, meet the people, interact with the culture, and just simply enjoy your time there, you will leave with a positive perception of the country. This is a long-term plan to make the world a more accepting place.
Lesson 4: Be happy. Be polite
The English can be a bit more passive with their complaints. If something bothers them, they will tend to just let it slide. I, on the other hand, was more than happy to speak up and provide feedback on my experience. The passiveness has taught me to be patient as I have no idea what others have been through that day. I try to reach out to people who are lost in London and help them find their way. I feel good knowing these interactions have all been positive and people have gained a better impression of England.