People spend a lot of time talking about how study abroad will open your worldview and help you appreciate other cultures—this is ABSOLUTELY true and something we at the OIE hope you all get from this experience. People also talk a great deal about how study abroad can strengthen your resume and make you a stronger candidate for jobs—something I know this blog will be discussing in the coming weeks as well.
However, I want to also bring some attention to the fact that study abroad can help with something else—it can be one more exercise in becoming a more flexible person and help you to adjust to any new scenario that comes your way.
I studied abroad twice as an undergrad—once in the UK and once in Chile—and both experiences certainly helped me with that process. While I come from an immigrant Latino family and have spent a lot of time in Latin America visiting family, Chile was a new experience for me, as was the UK. The fact that I had to figure out how to adjust to life in a completely new environment—and do it on my own—helped me develop my ability to be flexible as a human being.
Figuring out where to go for goods or information; learning to observe what is going on around me to get a better sense of the big picture; paying careful attention to make sure the person I’m talking to is actually understanding what I am trying to communicate; learning to live without daily luxuries I couldn’t bring with me or couldn’t justify buying for such a short period of time: these are all skills that have served me incredibly well, both in my personal and professional life.
Personally, being open to big moves to new places and taking advantage of international opportunities that have come my way is something I definitely came to appreciate through study abroad. I have moved around the US several times to start new jobs and in each case have been able to look at the move as an adventure, and have been able to design a mini-strategy for myself to help make each new city home, much like I did in the UK and Chile.
Professionally, my ability to observe what is going on around me has also come in handy. Starting a new job is always an exercise in coming in to a new “culture” and using the same skills I developed when adjusting to a new community abroad has helped make my transitions into each new job as seamless as possible and helped me manage the unavoidable confusion and stress that comes with being the new person and being unsure of what you’re doing.
In both of these scenarios the main skill set is the same—being FLEXIBLE and comfortable with not knowing everything that is going on. While study abroad won’t be solely responsible for helping you develop these, it is one more experience to help hone these skills—skills you’ll be able to take in every new opportunity or situation that comes into your life.
-Stephanie Roberts, OIE Advisor