Learning the Unexpected Abroad

Jenna Anderson 1

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of people talking about their experience studying/researching/interning abroad and how they learned to step out of their comfort zone, used their problem solving skills, and how to better communicate. This is all very true, but I’m going to highlight a few things you learn about when you’re abroad that you might seldom hear about.

You learn to live minimalistically. This might not be appealing to everyone, but trust me: it’s a cool skill to have. When you are travelling almost every weekend and you only have a backpack to bring with you, you learn how to downsize. Maybe that means only bringing two shirts and a pair of jeans and learning new ways to make different outfits, or leaving behind that jean jacket you love because it really does not fit in your suitcase. Maybe it means brushing your teeth with your finger because you forgot your toothbrush and you don’t have time to stop and buy a new one right now. And sometimes it means sleeping with your scarf as a blanket and your jacket as the sheets underneath you because you haven’t found time to buy bedding yet. Regardless, minimalism and resourcefulness are really great skills to possess. I think sometimes we are overrun with material items and that make it hard to focus on what we want to and to grow as people.

You also learn humility. Travelling can be exhausting and difficult at times, so sometimes this means you have to risk looking silly to get something done. Like pulling out a giant map on a subway full of locals, or asking someone (who doesn’t speak English) how to get to the hostel at which you’re staying. Really, I had to type out what I was trying to say on Google translate once – thank goodness for the Spanish woman who had the idea to do that in the first place! Maybe it’s sleeping on the floor of an airport because your flight leaves at 7 am, but the latest train to the airport is midnight.

Studying abroad is the one of the most rewarding experiences you will have even if it means learning things the hard way.  You adjust and you learn and you grow exponentially when you are travelling and interacting with unfamiliar people and places. And even when it gets hard, you always have interesting stories to tell when you come home.


Jenna Anderson is a junior studying Arts Administration, Dance, and Communications. She participated in the UK Exchange at the University of Central Lancashire in spring 2015.