6 things you don’t hear about studying abroad

1. You understand the importance of seeing the world

When I told people I was studying abroad, I got the same reaction from every person, regardless of age: “That’s amazing! You’re going to have so much fun! You’re so lucky to be traveling!” Every generation recognizes the importance of seeing the world and experiencing other cultures to broaden my worldview. It’s really encouraging to hear their excitement and have their support.

And once you get out into the world – you understand why it’s so important to do so. It’s an experience that exposes you to so many people, cultures, art, food, ideas. It’s impossible to describe it with justice. You have to experience it for yourself.

2. You are taken way out of your comfort zone

Here’s one way to think of studying abroad: You’re traveling 5,000 miles to a foreign country to live for four months with complete strangers. You are expected to succeed academically and socially. You take this huge leap to leave the comfort of the only life you’ve ever known to the discomfort of the unknown.

If this experience doesn’t define uncomfortable, then I don’t know what does.

I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone by studying abroad when I noticed I was becoming bored in Madison because I was becoming too comfortable there. I had to do something that would arouse me again, like how coming to UW-Madison as a freshman did.

3. Being uncomfortable allows you to grow the most

Distancing yourself from what is familiar is what gets you out of your comfort zone. It’s incredibly scary to think about and to do, but in the end this discomfort is what changes you the most.

I didn’t realize how scary studying abroad would be until I did it, leaving all familiarities for something drastically different. In fact, it has been the most uncomfortable thing I have ever done. But I know I have changed more and learned more than ever before. I have learned so much: about the world, about the places I call home, about myself when I am uncomfortable. I have become more outgoing, more adventurous, more spontaneous, more open-minded and more positive by be thrown into something I am unfamiliar with.

Sometimes I wish I was in Madison this semester with the comfort of my friends, classes and a familiar environment. But you never change when you are too comfortable.

4. You realize who you are when you start a new life with nothing else with you

Many people, like myself, study abroad knowing no one (another terrifying aspect of studying abroad). There is no one there to define you, your identity or your personality. When beginning your life abroad, it really is like dropping off the face of the earth (at least what you know of it) and starting fresh. You get to start over with a completely new network to truly be you. By being entirely alone, I discovered I acted exactly like me, with no influencers or any expectations to live up to.

I also found this opportunity exciting because, starting a new life abroad, I used it to become the person I always wanted to be. I’m old enough to have experienced the qualities of a person that I deem important and attractive. While away from anything that defined me, I worked on becoming a better person.

5. You appreciate who you love at home and realize who loves you

Being away from friends and family really helps you discover who you love and why. You don’t realize how much you love your mom and dad, best friend, favorite roommates, hometown and college campus until they’re 5,000 miles away from you. Missing them is by far the hardest part of studying abroad.

It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Being 5,000 miles away also means it’s sometimes difficult to show love. As trivial as it sounds, you realize the people who truly love you by how much they keep in contact. It’s the smallest gesture, but the effort of contacting you means they think of you, which means they love you.

6. Studying abroad becomes your best memory

People say to study abroad if you have any remote desire; I completely agree. It truly becomes the best experience of your life. You learn an incredible amount about yourself and the world that you could never get in a lecture hall, not to mention the amazing stories you’ll have and extraordinary memories you’ll treasure forever.

If you have the opportunity, I encourage you with all my heart to study abroad.