Two days ago, my classes at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen ended. In approximately ten working days I will get my grades and will be arranging to have my transcript sent back to the College of Charleston, my home university in the United States. As my semester abroad is drawing to a close, I have found that there are still some things I’d like to share with you that I’ve learned while abroad.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you should seek out new experiences, especially while abroad. After all, that’s why you decided to study abroad in the first place. Talk to people you never would even expect to like; let them tell you their story and share their experiences with you. It’s okay if you don’t forge lasting friendships with people from far-flung countries. The goal is to open your mind to new perspectives, whether or not you ultimately share the same views. In fact, it might be more refreshing if you don’t share the same opinion: take this as an opportunity to grow, to be a little kinder, a little more forgiving, a little more curious. Don’t be afraid to be honest, as long as you practice tact and stay humble. If you sense a misconception, whether in your mind or someone else’s, don’t be afraid to address it. Cultural exchanges are not just an opportunity to learn about others; they are also an opportunity to learn about yourself. Challenge yourself and your viewpoint. Ask yourself why you think the way you do. Take a step outside of yourself and your culture. The results could blow your mind.
Remember that life abroad is still life. It’s okay if you feel sad sometimes. It’s okay to have a bad day–even when you’re studying abroad and allegedly supposed to be having the time of your life. What most people won’t tell you before you go abroad is that you are still studying and taking exams, you still get caught in the rain sometimes, you still have days where you feel like staying in your room all day. Your everyday life abroad will be surprisingly similar to your everyday life at your home university. There is nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to go out every night or travel somewhere new every weekend or spend thousands of dollars if you don’t want to. The common factor in your life at home and your life abroad is that you are still the one living it, and you get to decide what would make you happy. As long as you remember to take care of yourself, to challenge yourself, and to be kind to others, there are no limits to what you can discover and achieve while abroad.
Remember those that made this experience possible for you. Take the time to thank those who have loved and supported you, both from home and abroad. They are the ones that have made home a place worth coming back to. Lastly, remember to think back fondly on the country and city which you called home for a semester or two. Know that it will be there for you even after you leave–steadfast, comforting, ready to welcome you home.