Studying abroad is an extreme privilege and one of the greatest opportunities one has as an undergraduate or graduate student. This decision is tough to make, however, the benefits and memories, as well as the new take on education, are invaluable. From my experience, there are three things every student should attempt when abroad. These three things encourage a further integration into the host culture, can give more value to your time abroad, and create lasting friendships with people you may never have expected to be close to.
Just Take One Bite
Yes I know that it might be a deep fried cockroach or that you absolutely hate cabbage (like me), but trying something you think is gross or that you know you’ve never liked in the past is a cultural experience that can deepen your connection to your host culture. Not only will you learn and experience more about the food, but you will show respect for the culture and for your peers by trying something they consider a delicacy or one of the countries greatest gastronomic accomplishments. I have always hated cabbage, but it is one of Germany’s favorite vegetables. It is on everything from sausages to schnitzel, it is plated with almost every meal, and it is a part of the Turkish inspired Döner. I did not always ear it, but when I was with friends who told me that I had to because it added to the flavor or that it was a crucial part of the meal, I sucked it up and took that bite. Food is one of the greatest parts of another culture, it can also be the hardest thing to integrate into; but I promise, if you just take that one bite, it can lead to great places
Often when we are abroad, we are delighted by the far better integrated transportation system, or are happy that biking everywhere is more common and expected. While both of these options are great and in themselves a new experience, there are a lot of things you miss while that bus is traveling down a main road, or when you are paying attention to the road in front of you while biking. Some of my best experiences were times when I chose to walk instead ride the bus or bike. When you walk, you are surrounded by the culture (and nature) you are in, and you have time to stop and take a photo or to grab an ice cream. Walking gives you the ability to slow down for a minute and enjoy the moment. Choosing to walk is also a time you can talk to yourself and think, or reflect on your experiences thus far. Don’t be afraid to slow down and take a walk instead, it can change your whole experience.
Say “Yes” More
As students abroad, our first priority is to be a student and to complete our educational requirements, but sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. There will be points in your time abroad when you are stressed over work, or have just finished a paper and want a break, and you have been invited out for dinner or to a movie. There will be times where you’ve finished all your work and you want to get a head start on your other work, but a friend just invited you to go home with them for a weekend and experience a different side of the culture. While I encourage you to make the best decision for you, and that you should always complete your work one time, I also believe that there is a part of learning that comes from experiencing the culture. Don’t be afraid to say “yes”, to take a small break and enjoy yourself. Saying “yes” is something that I feel we are all guilty of not saying at some times. Studying abroad can be stressful and we will need times to relax and soak up the culture. Saying “yes” just a little bit more can strengthen friendships, deep cultural immersion, and show you the value of a different way of life.
These three things seem very small and easy to do, and I hope they are because they lead to completely new experiences and a deeper respect for culture. Taking that bite, walking home instead, and saying “yes” just a little bit more are things one can incrementally add throughout their experience to gain something indescribable and personal. I always encourage people to study abroad, and I always encourage these three things.
Photo by Kiel Henry
Post by Kiel Henry
Kiel is a Peer Ambassador studying German, and he is a senior. He studied abroad through a UK Sponsored program in Munich studying Intermediate German, and through a UK Exchange- Heidelberg studying German language and Culture.