5 Reasons You Need to Travel Abroad

5 Reasons You Need to Travel Abroad

Studying abroad is an incredible way to stand out on college applications, and with so many different programs in so many different places, you are offered an amazing opportunity to choose a program that fits you best.  In saying that, I urge you to study abroad; I implore you.  It is an experience that is unforgettable, and it is something that broadens your horizon not only in your everyday life but also for your future.  Studying abroad is an experience that should be had by everyone, because even that late night where you might find yourself sprinting for a train to Toulouse, is completely worth the adventure.

I studied abroad in Pau, France from August 2012 to May 2013.  Pau is a city about an hour north of Basque Country in Spain and an hour east from the Atlantic Ocean.  The initial reason that I wanted to go was to learn French in its true environment.  I had taken French in high school and in college but, it did not compare.  With that said, during the course of my time in Pau, I realized that my desire to learn French was hardly the reason I wanted to go and to go for an entire year.  I undoubtedly learned an immense amount in the classroom about the language, the culture, the people, yet the things I learned outside the classroom are the lessons that stick with me every day.  It is something I feel is so important that I wish everyone to have the same opportunity as I did.  With that, I am going to list 5 reasons to travel abroad.

1. Firsthand experience

I am a nerd.  I love school and spending time in the classroom and in the library.  However, anything I have studied about a foreign place, culture or language does not compare to actually going there.  The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is the single most mind-baffling man made creation I have ever seen, and anything on the internet or in a book simply cannot do it justice and for that reason, when I went to go see it. I didn’t dare try to take pictures.  It is an amazing feeling to see something in real life that renders you speechless that can only be done when you see these things abroad.

2. Learning from the Source

While I went to class in Pau, I was taught by French professors who specialized in teaching the French language to foreign students and to anyone who has taken language classes. There is a huge difference between learning from a native speaker and a non-native speaker.  That is not to say that your American foreign language professors cannot teach you as well, but the difference is that there are many things that an American professor simply may not know.  Idioms are a great example:  Esprit de l’escalier which translates literally to “spirit of the staircase” is used when someone thinks of something they should have said in a conversation after it took place (which would actually be cool if that were also an idiom in English).  Idioms are something that may not be known by an American professor.  This does not only apply to languages.  Politics, history, geography are all examples because the professors who teach their language and their culture will know more for the simple fact that they have lived there and they grew up with it.

3. Know thyself


While abroad you begin to really figure out who you are and learn that your likes and dislikes were actually shaped by your previous environment.  To the south of Pau are the Pyrenees Mountains.  As someone who grew up in Wisconsin and went to college in Chicago, nature was not the most important thing to me.  I have only seen mountains one other time in my life and my preconception of “nature” was just farms and corn fields.  These notions came to an abrupt halt once I felt like I was in a scene of Lord of the Rings, minus the long-flowing hair and magic, unfortunately.  When you go abroad you are in a completely different environment and the only two things in the world that are familiar all over are Facebook and McDonald’s.  With that being said, you need to accept different circumstances, different ways of life and thinking.  You may even begin to accept these differences as norms, as I did.  For instance, I am now a firm believer that every meal should be accompanied by a baguette.

4. Collecting Memories and Experiences


It should be known that going abroad isn’t all fun and games, often times you have to work or study while you’re there, you have to prepare homework, establish yourself in a completely foreign place, etc. However, these are all experiences and memories that, although some may have been bad at the time, hindsight is 20/20 and those awkward situations become great memories.  On the day of my placement test, I got hit by a car biking to school.  After deciding which language to yell in, after remembering French body vocabulary, after getting healthy, I instantly realized that although it was an inconvenience, it was also a great story to tell and it certainly has helped me be a much more careful person.  Every experience is good because it shapes you as a person and helps you grow and when you are in a situation where you’re lying in a French hospital trying to remember the word for “hip” you have time to think about how that experience can prepare you for anything.

5. Learning a Language

As I have said earlier, I went to learn the French language.  Languages have always been a passion of mine and I had always dreamed of going to France specifically.  It is amazing what even a month can do to improve your language skills, and in our ever-globalizing world we often lose sight of the importance in knowing other languages.  Yes, English is the universal language but, let me promise you that that does not mean that everyone speaks it nor cares to learn it.  There were many times when I would have loved to speak English however, once abroad, I came to terms with that not being the case.  Not being able to speak the language fluently or even that well is an extremely humbling experience.  At time you feel helpless, less confident, and lazy but once you do put in that effort and you do start to have a real good understanding there is no better feeling.  “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” ‒Nelson Mandela

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