This is it. It's time for you to study abroad. I'm sure you have attended all the necessary seminars, presentations and have been given your itinerary. If you're like me, you have probably spent countless hours curating the perfect packing list and still overpacking too much. Your suitcase can barely be zipped, but there are a few necessities you must pack. Before you go, I want to share some of my favorite travel essentials to bring along with you on your journey.
1. A sense of adventure
This is your chance to explore someplace new. As Carl Friedrickson said is the movie UP, “Adventure is out there.” Wander through the city with no map. Talk to the strangers sitting next to you at the cafe. Try that meat with hair still on it. Be adventurous and intentional in what you do while abroad. You never know when you’ll get another chance to do something like this again.
2. An open mind
Whether you are traveling within the United States or abroad, I can almost guarantee you will be put into an environment you have never been in before. My advice to you is to keep an open mind. Are you always going to feel comfortable? No. But growth only happens in those spaces where we feel discomfort. Studying away gives you the opportunity to reflect upon your culture, values and beliefs. Challenge yourself and be open to new experiences.
3. Cultural awareness
Before you leave, you should have some understanding of the culture you are stepping into. How does this culture differ from yours? For example, in Spain, wearing shorts in the summer is not the norm (say hello to chafing). You must be aware of the culture you are going into. Just embrace it. This is someone else’s norm; it is not your place to judge or place value on it. You do not necessarily have to agree with the culture, but you must be respectful of it.
Take a moment each day to journal and reflect about things you encountered or how you felt throughout the day. What excited you? What made your skin crawl? How do your identities affect the way you are viewing this new environment? Truly take time to understand the reciprocal interaction between yourself and the world around you. You will gain a sense of global citizenship that you may not have had before.
5. Good humor
It can be expected that not everything will work out as you planned. Maybe that includes riding the train the wrong direction, getting burnt from head to toe on your last day at the beach, or tripping and falling down the stairs in front of a cute French guy. We’ve all been there. Learn to laugh about it. In this life, we have room for mistakes and missteps. Give yourself a moment of grace and learn from them. If all else fails, at least you will have a good story to tell your friends when you return home.
As you go on your way, remember these tips. Take it from someone who has been in your position. Let yourself have fun, make mistakes and do something crazy. Remember where you came from, but also where you’re going. We are all rooting for you back here in Ohio. Now, go make some memories.