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The Cultural Impacts of Studying Abroad Part 1 of 3

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Dear Reader:

In this three-part series I will be explaining why to have an education abroad experience, how to pick the best country/region for you, benefits of immersing yourself in a different culture, adapting back home on your return, and how to use your newfound cultural knowledge, all using my personal experiences.

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When I came to college, one experience was recommended to me over and over again by so many different people. Virtually every older student and faculty member encouraged to study abroad. In all honesty, I felt that education abroad wasn’t for me. I don’t like traveling or going to a place I didn’t know. I like safety, and there is safety in what you already know.

At least that’s what I thought for the past 20 years, I’m glad I was wrong.

A Call To Action

My own family pushed me to study abroad, even for just a few weeks. It was an experience they couldn’t have so I felt like I had to take the opportunity. This wasn’t the only factor, either. I’m lucky enough to meet many different people on my campus, and through them I learned that not everyone has the same opportunities. In the United States, along with probably a few other countries, undocumented students are unable to leave the country because they will not be able to return. I did not realize this when I came to school, it is unfair to rob someone of a potentially amazing opportunity.  

Being a minority in a predominantly white institution made me feel like I’m not privileged, but I still had more opportunities than others and I felt it was a dishonor to let them slip away.

Making My Choice

After deciding a summer program was more financially beneficial for me, the next step was to decide what country. Europe felt like the best option because of how diverse the culture was, especially with so many countries being closely distanced from each other but still being vastly different. I believed that Spain would be too comfortable because I already knew Spanish. If I was going to live in a different culture I wanted to go all in. I’ve always been attracted to Italy because of its familiar aspects. However, the culture was still new to me so I believed it would give me an incredible experience. I was right.

Multiple tourists visiting the Roman Pantheon
Roman Pantheon – Photo: Allyvanessa Valera

Fortunately, I didn’t make my decisions alone. I have a great clan of experienced individuals around me who gave me enough advice to make me feel like I knew what I was doing. One of these individuals was Niko Thomas, my former high school teacher. I recently reached out again to help explain how to choose the best country to study abroad in. Thomas responded:

“Having the opportunity to travel abroad is amazing, some of us end up in careers where all we do is travel, some of us don’t have that luxury for months and months on end… I make sure to make the time to travel, and I fell in love with it when I studied in Germany when I [was in college].

[My advice] is to somewhat know what you are getting yourself into, but don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith. As long as you are a smart traveler, you will gain an experience like no other.”

The World is Vast, Take the Shot

Yes, there are many factors that you should think about if you are planning on studying abroad. However, at the end of the day you are trying to experience something and somewhere new. If this wasn’t the case then why would you look for something outside of your university? I believe that the most important factor you must consider is what culture you want to immerse yourself in.

Immersion is key, I cannot stress this enough. Part Two will explain this in more detail, but basically you will not be able to absorb another culture if you don’t try to. This means eating the authentic food, speaking the language, people-watching, exploring non-touristy areas, etc. Depending on the country you choose and where you’re from, there might be communities that make you feel like you never left your home. These are great for a little while but it is important to spread your wings.

Tourists visiting the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland)
Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) – Photo: Allyvanessa Valera

So do your research, know what cultures you want to be a part of or want to learn more about. Maybe there is a culture you identify as but don’t get the opportunity to be immersed in it. Studying abroad is a great chance to reconnect with an identity you don’t experience enough. Exploring new cultures and identities makes you more globally aware and will benefit you in the long run.

The ease of air travel and the availability of the internet connects people together all over world. This is the best time to educate yourself and experience different cultures. The world is becoming more cross cultural, studying abroad gives you the best, and most fun, opportunity to be ahead of the game. 

Worms view of Cathedral of Florence
Cathedral of Florence – Photo: Allyvanessa Valera
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