Marshall and I ran to the boarding line, realizing we were 10 minutes late for our flight to Sweden. Luckily, Ryanair usually takes its time when boarding passengers, so we made it on the plane with no worries. We settled in our seats and an old, skinny man with a white, stubbly beard and black-rimmed glasses sat in the seat next to me.
About 10 minutes into the flight, the old man grabbed Haribo ositos de oro (gummy bears) from his backpack and offered me some of his treats. I declined and went back to reading. Twenty minutes later, he began nibbling on his candy again, tapping my shoulder to offer me some more. I shook my head and continued reading.
About an hour into the flight, I started to feel peckish. I dug into my backpack for the lunch my host mom made for me and found a roll of Maria cookies. After opening the package, I nudged the man and held out a cookie for him. A huge smile etched across his face as he accepted a cookie.
“Thank you so much,” he said. He took a bite, nodding in satisfaction. “My name is Shel, what’s your name?”
For the rest of the flight – three hours left at that point – Shel and I exchanged stories. He told me, in broken English, about his trip with his wife to Málaga, showing me pictures of all the monkeys they saw; he shared about being a truck driver of railroad equipment for 25 years, scrolling through pictures of the biggest material he has transported; he exhibited photos of his home in the Swedish countryside, his cat, and his granddaughter.
Tall pine trees began to grow as the plane descended. Shel wished us a safe trip and offered some gummy bears one last time. Marshall and I smiled and took a few pieces.
"This is why I am studying abroad,” I thought to myself as we walked off the plane.
Apart from the aforementioned experience of meeting incredible people, there are an innumerable amount of reasons of why you should study away – internationally or domestically. If you are on the fence about it, here are a few more reasons of why you should take the leap.
If you are studying a language, the best way to learn is to immerse in it.
Taking language classes in America is not the same as talking with a local about your day. When you live in a place where you are speaking a different language from when you wake up to saying goodnight at the end of the day, your brain adapts and picks it up quickly. Not only do your listening and speaking skills increase, your understanding of the language increases as well when you learn about the colloquial terms.
Future employers will love it.
Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to improve soft skills – problem solving, flexibility, adaptability, communication, and more. Trying to tell your host mom about what you learned in your grammar class, growing accustomed to all stores shutting down in the middle of the day for three hours, figuring out where your hostel is without Google Maps are all times when you are confronted in situations where your soft skills grow. Besides, less than 2% of college students study abroad, so the experience alone will help you stand out to other applicants.
You meet the most amazing people.
Host parents, locals, travelers from other countries, other Americans. Traveling abroad opens you to people from all around the world. Meeting other Americans or foreigners who also decided to study in that same city establishes a bond at the beginning, a bond that you will build upon as you all go through the ups and downs. I still keep in contact with my host family and Spanish friends. I have also met up with my American study abroad friends several times since returning.
There will never be a better time to travel.
When else in your life will you be able to take 5+ months out to live in another country? Studying abroad in college is the best time to travel. You do not have a full-time job that limits your vacation time or the responsibility of making payments for student loans yet. The fantastic thing about studying abroad is that usually the homework load is minimal, so you have lots of free time on your hands. This free time makes it incredibly easy to not only explore your own city or country, but to travel to other countries. Take advantage of this because you never know when you will have this opportunity again.
It's the greatest learning experience you will ever participate in.
Living in a different country means the only comfort you have is yourself. Yes, you will learn a thing or two in class, but most of the learning happens outside of the university. You learn basic life skills such as how to use public transportation, how to communicate with someone if neither of you shares a language, and how to budget. When you are in a place where you are constantly outside of your comfort zone, you expand your zone to become more adaptable to different ways of communicating, different ways of thinking, different ways of living – ultimately discovering and changing you.
By being abroad, you unearth how much is out in the world and the limitless options you have in your life. Do not miss this opportunity to invest in yourself and the world.
Sage Larson '17 is studying multimedia journalism and Spanish.