BY JOSEPH SIMURDIAK
So you fancy yourself an intrepid individual. Maybe your peers are content to live out their normal, safe, mundane college lives, but you– you want something more. You have a desire to explore, a hungry spirit that cannot be contained by your present surroundings. Maybe you have read novels and watched adventure movies all your life, and you have decided that reading and watching just isn’t enough—you need to live an adventure all of your own. It is not sufficient to follow the fantastic exploits of more interesting people (fictional or nonfictional) while you simply trudge day-to-day through your own life. You want to pursue your own story.
You, my friend, should study abroad.
Study abroad. This is the first advice I would give to any incoming college student, regardless of their interests, hobbies or major. Nothing you do in college will challenge you or transform you as much as studying abroad will. As human society becomes more and more globalized, bringing people of every nation, religion and race face-to-face with one another at a rate unprecedented in history, it is more important now than ever that students travel abroad and expose themselves to new cultures and points of view—to recognize them, to relate to them and –if not necessarily always agree with them– to understand them. On a personal level, living in another culture is like obtaining a second life and an additional mind; it opens the spirit, and the world suddenly becomes much more vast.
Challenge yourself to learn a new language, study foreign perspectives on cultural, political, and moral concepts, and realize that maybe the world presented by your own culture is not as complete as you thought it was. Your long-held certainties and cherished absolutes will be shaken. You will ask new questions and grow as a person. Will it be scary? Of course. Potentially subversive? Absolutely, And that is precisely why you should do it.
So how do you study abroad? Ultimately, you get out of the experience what you put into it. Inevitably, some students will return to their dorms after class and spend their free time watching movies or browsing the internet, but they do so to their own detriment and might as well have stayed home. This may seem obvious, but some students still do it, and that is not how you should study abroad. Most people also go to the bars and nightclubs, and sure that’s fun, but it is so ordinary. That is not adventure either, so you must do something more.
Dedicate yourself to making friendships from foreign cultures and keep these friends close. At school, join student clubs and partake in foreign sports. If no one is around to hang out with, strike out and seek new experiences on your own. Visit historically or culturally important sites, climb mountains, travel to new cities, explore the countryside. Do something no one else is doing—when I was in Japan, I biked 600 miles across the country, acquainting myself with new towns, local cultures, the mountains, the forests and the sea. That experience alone was life-changing, and all it took was the desire to do it.
Seek the soul of the country. Endeavor to learn what people’s values are, what they hold sacred, what their society believes in. How do they see themselves in relation to the rest of the world? What do they think of the United States—what do they admire about us? What do they dislike? They have much to teach if you are eager to learn.
And finally, of course, take lots of pictures.
The world is being offered to you. You are young, your mind is curious and now the time is ripe to travel abroad and see it. Life is too short not to throw yourself into the pit There are boundless experiences to be had, memories to be made and adventures to chase.
They are waiting for you, and the road is just at the door.
Will you take it?