Traveling abroad changes you

Guest post by by Jen Martinez.

It’s been nearly three years since I left home to spend a semester of college in Sydney, Australia. I was halfway through getting my undergraduate degree at the University of Denver, and I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to attend the University of New South Wales. And not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars that I went.

Everyone talks about why you should study abroad. They say you’ll make new friends. They say you’ll get a better feel for this great, wide world we live in. They say it’s unlike any experience you could possibly imagine. But no one talks about how it affects the person you become: how, even years later, you’ll still tell stories about the trials and tribulations of being a foreigner. You’ll still laugh to yourself when you think of the 10-person rooms in those hostels you frequented. You’ll think about the smile that spread across every stranger’s face when they heard you speak for the first time — to discover you were from the U.S.

These are the five ways studying abroad changed my life, and how it’ll probably change yours.

1. If you do it right, then you’ll learn how to be alone with yourself.

Because I chose to spend a semester in the Southern Hemisphere, I was very, very far from all of my friends that were in Europe. Of course, I knew some of the people in my program as acquaintances, but none whom I could really call if (and when) I started to panic. Thus, I arrived in wintry (rainy) Australia in July with two large suitcases and no friends. I had never felt more alone in my life, and it was actually quite freeing. Remember: you’re going to be spending the rest of your life with yourself. If you can’t spend a couple of days without a friend or family member in close proximity, then you need to learn how.

2. You’ll make friends from all over the world.

Thanks to the “Make as few American friends as possible” policy I adopted, I hung out with mostly other foreigners in Sydney. Three of my best friends – and roommates – were from Denmark, England, and Indonesia. Also, I made friends with actual Australians. So, when I travel in the future, I won’t really be alone anymore.

3. You’ll have some wonderful – and hilarious – stories to tell your grandkids.

From climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset, to getting groped by a koala in Queensland, I have plenty of amazing tales to share. Some of my best experiences from my four years of college happened while I was studying abroad. How many grandmas can say that they bungee jumped in a rainforest when they were in their twenties?

4. Seeing how other cultures live every day changes how you feel about home.

It’s not culture shock. Instead, it’s about how living and being immersed in another society makes you look at your home country very differently. You start to analyze your people, your government, your nation etc. a bit more because you’ve seen how things work in other parts of the world. Whether this new vision makes you appreciate or criticize your home more is entirely up to you.

5. You’ll continue to have an insatiable thirst for learning and traveling.

It’s something that cannot be quenched by any trip, big or small. I’ll always want to meet people from different cultures. I’ll always want to learn about other civilizations’ histories. I’ll always want to be traveling. So I’ll never be bored.

If you’re a college student considering spending a semester abroad, then I urge you to do it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Posted by Jen Martinez