For me, studying abroad was a bit like getting slapped in the face. But in a good way. An eye-opening way. An I-can’t-wait-to-do-it-again way.
I was confronted with my own biases, prejudices, and my preconceived ideas of what is “right” in this world. You see, prior to spending two months in Greifswald, Germany (a small city in the northeast, near Poland and the Baltic Sea), I didn’t realize I had these thoughts. After all, I had heard, read, and learned about other cultures. I’ve had classmates, roommates and friends of varying ethnicities and races and religions. I considered myself open-minded, accepting, and willing to consider things from new angles.
Then I traveled to Greifswald; I was uprooted from my life and culture and plopped into a world that was the same, yet…not quite. It made me look at things differently, including myself and the things I had always believed and taken for granted – my sense of my own country and the world, my lifestyle, my convictions. I learned that sometimes thoughts and beliefs are so much a part of our lives that we forget they aren’t the only options or the only ways of doing things. It’s not so much that we disagree with alternatives – we just don’t consider that they exist, because we’re so embedded in our own ways.
Living abroad forced me to acknowledge that I am not quite as open-minded as I thought I was. However, I have discovered the solution to confronting these thoughts – to become immersed in another country, culture, and life, because it allows you to better understand the one in which you grew up.
Travel. But do more than travel to another country – live there. Observe. Ask questions. Think. Soak it up. Let go of the tethers that hold you to everything you once believed and lose yourself in a world that isn’t your own. Experience it.
Sometimes it will feel like you don’t know where you are – both literally and figuratively. There will be times you’ll wonder if anything you once believed in is actually true. You’ll be made to confront the presuppositions you never even knew you had, which will stretch your mind and allow you to grow.
I can’t promise a complete change. But I can promise that you’ll be a better person for it. And, if you’re like me, you won’t regret a single minute and will spend your spare time planning your next trip. So, go!