What Studying Abroad Taught Me

Posted on May 23, 2019 by Madison Nelson
Madison Nelson

Madison Nelson in the Netherlands. data-lightbox='featured'

As I started my trip to the Netherlands I had a lot of nervousness about the difficulties I’d face while being abroad, especially the different things I would experience as an American who had no clue of the world outside her “collegiate bubble”. Despite my nervousness, I spent an entire month traveling between the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany continually being impressed by the artwork, architecture, botany, and cuisine. It felt like falling in love, and I truly believe I’ll never experience anything quite like it again. Reflecting upon the trip has led me to the realization of how truly important this was for my self growth, if not for this trip I don’t think I would have learned some of the major life lessons I desperately needed to learn.

I learned to be self-reliant. Even though I went with a group of 20 people, I was still on my own for most of the trip. It wasn’t until this situation that I discovered how much I relied on others to complete things, think things, or even solve problems for me. As a scientist, it pains me to admit this. I’ve chosen a field where I am held accountable for my own ideas and for solving my own problems. So, realizing I had been pushing those things on the people around me was a real wake up call. When you’re in another country, one that doesn’t speak English, you’re forced to be your own superhero. Due to some of the cultural difficulties faced while abroad I can proudly say that I am now more reliant on my own abilities and resources, rather than those of others. This is definitely something I feel carried over into my current research and academic endeavors. I think this lesson is one I’m most thankful for - It gave me a reason to believe in myself again.

I learned to live in the moment. Before this trip I had spent my entire life more focused on what’s ahead of me instead of what’s in front of me. Traveling like this, where you only have a few weeks to see some of the most sought after travel destinations, literally forces you to enjoy the moment you’re in. If you get too focused on what you’ll see tomorrow you might miss the beautiful painting or delicious plate of food before you. Looking back, I had no idea this was something I’d been doing for the past 21 years. Trust me when I say that I definitely have more fun in my life with this newfound ability to enjoy things as they are.

I learned to adapt to my situation. I think this is something every student should think about before choosing to study abroad. You must learn to be adaptable and flexible when traveling in another country, or else you’ll learn the hard way much like I did. I have always been someone who likes when things go exactly as planned, so this was a hard one for me. There were several times on my trip where things didn’t go the way they were supposed to, which meant I had the accept the situation for what it was and figure out another plan. Obstacles are going to arise when you least expect them to - Mom, you were right. Having the ability to adapt to your situation inspires critical thinking and problem solving, and this has actually helped me become a better student. Just think, if I hadn’t gotten lost on a busy Saturday in Amsterdam (more than once) we wouldn’t be here now.

For all of you who are questioning whether or not studying abroad is something worth trying, I’d say give it a shot! Studying abroad isn’t just about taking learning outside the classroom, it’s also about experience. I hope my self-growth can be an example of how truly life changing and eye opening an experience like this can be. It’s something I’d never trade. Being able to study abroad is one of the greatest opportunities I’ve had yet.

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