Exams are approaching, motivation is waning and people are starting to talk about summer, which can only mean that the semester is coming to an end. As my time in Spain draws to a close, I can look back on my experience and say without a doubt that studying abroad has been life changing. I have seen places I hadd only dreamt of before, made great friendships, experienced different cultures and grown in my knowledge of the world, all while having the time of my life.
As I reflected on my time abroad, I thought I would pass on to the community of the University of Mary Washington what I think are the five most important lessons I learned while living abroad.
First: every situation is what you make of it. Wherever you are, whatever situation you are in, you can get a lot out of it if you approach it with a positive attitude. Whether everything is peachy in Paris, or you’ve just missed your nonrefundable flight to Munich, if you approach the situation with a level head and a determination to make the best of it, you’ll have a better experience.
Second: know your limit. I can say from experience, if you try to cram as much traveling and sightseeing as you possibly can into a short amount of time, you will end up miserable and exhausted. Being wise about how you spend your nights out can also fall into this category. It’s best not to end up in a situation you can’t control in a place you’re not familiar with when your parents are too far away to bail you out.
Third: be open to new experiences. This one was hard for me. I am infamous among my friends and family for being picky. Throughout my many travels in the past few months, I have had to leave my comfort zone many times. These experiences have ranged from tasting the best gelato in Rome and sitting under the Eiffel Tower at midnight to eating snail and sharing a hostel bathroom with 15 other people. I cannot say that I’ve loved everything, but I’m grateful for every experience I had because it helped me to grow as a person.
Four: make good friends. When you are spending a semester abroad, you are far away from all your family and friends and it can get lonely fast. The best way to make the most out of your experience is to find good friends who you can travel with and not want to kill after two days in a hostel together. You also want to make sure they’ll have your back no matter what shenanigans you get into.
Finally, five: document it. A semester abroad is one of the most amazing, unique experiences you will have in your lifetime. It’s not often you can spend one weekend sunbathing in the Canary Islands and the next touring the Colosseum in Rome. You will be making memories that should last a lifetime, so be sure to bring a memory card with the most gigabytes possible. If you like to write, keep a blog or a journal and write down all the things you want to tell your grandkids about, and maybe a few things you’ll keep to yourself.
The most important thing is to just do it. Go abroad. See the world. Why not? You’re young, and there’s no better time for it.