Why studying abroad is a step towards understanding the world

This post is from official student blogger, Sarah Al-Arshani, who is from the  University of Connecticut. Sarah is a Political Science and Journalism Major studying in Dubrovnik, Croatia

For many, studying abroad isn’t just an opportunity for a change of scenery – it’s a door to experiencing a totally different culture. The cool thing is that not only do you get to pick the culture you immerse yourself in, but you also have control over how deep into the culture you go. Every place in the world has a long and intricate history that it doesn’t take a single trip to unpack. With that said, I believe that a successful study abroad experience will have you wondering more about the places you visited, and it gives you a deeper appreciation for the diverse and amazing stories in the world.

When I started my journey abroad, I had a vision of backpacking through Europe to experience its wonders. As I got here and took several trips, that desire started to diminish. Day and weekend trips left me feeling exhausted and unsatisfied with the level of depth that I was able to experience in the places I visited. Seeing new places is a wonderful thing, but it didn’t satisfy my craving to understand the world. It takes more than just a day or two visiting famous monuments, attractions and museums to understand the local culture of a different place. Touring the world is fun, and has its own lessons and adventures, but slowly exploring different cultures has its own rewards as well. This experience for me has reignited a passion for traveling, but a more comprehensive kind. The aim to check places off a bucket list suddenly withered away. I wanted to experience the culture, to understand the histories and the local way of life. I’ve begun to think more critically of what places truly interest me and why. This way, the next adventure I go on will give me a better grasp on the fascinating cultures I will be a part of.

As my time comes to an end here, I realize some of the misconceptions I and many other students had about studying abroad that we should keep in mind. Living abroad doesn’t make us world experts. Whether you study in Europe, the Pacific, South America, or whatever niche of the world you visit, understand that the country you stay in is a small fragment of a larger global culture. Sure, it will enrich your understanding of someplace new, but it won’t give you a complete worldview in one semester. Another sad reality is that your experience will always be filtered through a foreigner’s perspective, and the best you can do is try to live like the locals as much as possible. The daunting reality that you will return to your life in the US gives you a nuanced lens into local culture, and understanding that your interpretation of the local culture is mixed with your own past experiences will help you make sense of your own experience. The way you perceive things will not necessarily reflect the reality of the culture for the local people. Be sure to talk to the locals and understand their perspective while differentiating between their points of view and your own.

Finally, living abroad does not make you a different person. There’s this notion that going abroad changes you simply just because you’re abroad. I don’t think that’s true. See, your experience is entirely your own and you have to search for growth and new perspectives while abroad. You can go abroad and simply do nothing different, not take risks, and keep yourself in a bubble from a the local culture, and you won’t learn anything new about the place you’re staying in or yourself…. Or you could use this opportunity to unplug, get lost, ask questions, and really make an effort to self explore.

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