Tuesday, September 28, 2010

6 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Studying Abroad

The Eiffel Tower, Taken By Me

There is nothing I can type that will help me describe the beauty of Michelangelo's "David" or the feelings I had when gazing up at the Sistine Chapel. No amount of words can tell how small I felt while staring out across the endless landscape of Paris, in the shadow of the Basilique du Sacré Cœur atop Montmartre. The world got bigger, my consciousness grew larger and the unknown arrogance I had towards the world around me diminished. Life as I knew it was different because the box my mind once lived in no longer existed.

I traveled throughout Europe for a month and some change to Spain, Germany, Italy and ended in Paris for a week. During that time I found a different part of myself and discovered that my life here in America was not the only way of doing things. I was bombarded with differentiating views; some of which I have still yet to shake. It was an eye opening experience to say the least and changed me into a better, more receptive individual.

Not all who go abroad come back changed as I did. Some come back worse and even more set in their ways then before they left. So, if you are about to or thinking about going abroad, here are a couple of rules to live by to keep yourself from falling into the dreaded "Arrogant American" mindset of exclusive thinking these types of people acquire.

DON'T Surround Yourself With Americans
Your not going to feel and hear the true native way of life on a cruise ship. If you are surrounded with people who think like you, chances are it will be harder for you to absorb the ideas and ways of the natives. It's much easier to buy a cheeseburger from McDonald's instead of eating something from a local vendor if everyone else is doing it too. I'm not saying don't travel with people you know; I'm just saying mix it up a bit try something new.

Get Lost
Getting lost in a huge city like Paris is magical. You never know what you're going to find, with every turn showing you something new and unexpected. What's the fun in sticking to the tour guide manual anyway? Adventure rarely comes to find you, so go find IT yourself.

Learn The Language
Learning the language, or at least attempting to, puts you in the mindset of the locals. Total immersion is the only way you will ever be able to get the full experience of what it's like living in another country. Being able to talk freely with those around you will more readily expose you to a cultures' ways and ideas.

Learn The Customs
Learning the customs and things that are acceptable in the society in which you go is a must. Things in American society may not translate with the same meaning as in others. For instance, a backwards "Peace Sign" will still probably mean "Peace" to most Americans, in the United Kingdom it is called a "two-finger salute" and it is the equivalent of sticking up your "middle finger" in America. Little knowledge like this can keep you from hitting a few extra unintended bumps on your journey. (Being able to talk your way out of it by learning the language never hurts either).

Eat The Local Cuisine
Culture is loosely defined by the type of food eaten in that country. As an American, when someone starts talking about Mexico, I automatically think tacos. If a person mentions Germany, I think schnitzel and beer. Food is considered culture because its what brings people together. The best times I can remember in Europe are those of me and my friends eating and laughing over some sort of local cuisine.

Keep an Open Mind
This is the most essential thing you must do in order to keep yourself from being an "Arrogant American". Don't shut out the world around you, even if it flies in the face of what you have known your entire life. Living the life of someone else not only expands your knowledge of the world, but also sheds new light on your own life, making it easier to question if how you are living is the best for both you and those around you.