By Vasiliki Theodosiou,
When preparing their suitcases, a lot of students find themselves questioning their decision. Going to a place where you don’t know anyone, a place you’ve never visited before, a place far away from what has so far been ‘home’ can be rather scary. However, this place is, also, somewhere where nobody knows you, where there are plenty of things to explore, where you can find something new to do every single day and where you will eventually create your new ‘home’.
Sometimes the whole preparation process is discouraging. Too much paperwork, too much thinking about the application, too many responsibilities compared to the convenience of being at home, leading a ‘normal’ life. The problem is that developing as a person cannot really come as the result of following a routine and being afraid to get out of it. Studying abroad not only makes a person more independent, but also, it enables them to discover themselves. It is exactly the fact that this experience is scary that tests one’s ability to adapt into a new environment and find their way around a new culture.
Sure, you are leaving your life behind: friends, family, habits. But soon a whole new life will be created in your new home: new friends, new family, new habits. Universities usually get to advertise the academic aspect of this new life telling you that your language skills will be improved and that you will get the chance to experience a contrasting approach to what you are used to in terms of teaching and studying methods. At the same time, you will enrich your CV and your possibilities for future employment. It goes without saying that this aspect is of course of paramount importance but it cannot be compared to the importance of the social and cultural aspect that a foreign country has to offer.
Culture-wise you will undoubtedly get to experience another culture while simultaneously re-discover your own. To put that simply, imagine that each and every one of us is born and raised wearing a pair of ‘cultural glasses’. Through their lenses you get to perceive everything that is happening around you. As soon as you get to live in a different culture, you invest on buying a new set of glasses. The more glasses you get to wear, the more your eyes get to see and the richer you become as an individual. Be careful though. A lot of study-abroad students get trapped into hanging out only with people from similar backgrounds and are afraid to actually interact with people who have a different culture or background. Some people see it as a language barrier, other people feel a certain safety when they are surrounded by people who have a similar perspective to their own. Whatever the trigger, make sure not to let it get to you. Besides, you certainly did not travel miles away only to end up hanging out with people that you can easily hang out with back at home.
It is also worth noting that you will gain a sense of being a global citizen. Interaction with individuals from abroad helps you realise the global dimension of political, environmental or even musical issues. Realising that, it will help you see that the news that reach you from distant places, big or small, will feel more personal to you because you will now have a friend who lives there and with whom you are able to relate. A situation where you find yourself empathising with people or events that are taking place in a world far away from you, is crucial in being able to develop an understanding towards the global dimension of your citizenship.
Adding another dimension to your already-existing citizenship, will help you in building up your character as well as your confidence. The fact that you get to learn more about the world means that you get to learn more about others and about yourself. Yes, cooking on your own and living on your own is great (or not). But have you tried figuring out how to communicate with a person that has grown up at the other side of the world who queues in front of the bus or uses chopsticks to eat their cereal?
It might all seem like a test or like a series of challenges and that could very easily be off-putting. The result, though, is beyond rewarding. Therefore, the next time you will find yourself stressing out over your Erasmus+ application or your study abroad decision as a whole, think about this: you will travel with a single suitcase but upon returning you will have gained a lot more in moments, faces and places. You will stay there for a limited amount of time but your memories will last forever.