Melinda Shilling graduated from Kent State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Integrated Language Arts and has been teaching High School English for seven years. She will soon be completing her Master’s Degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education with intentions of finding employment in an International Student Office, Career Services, or Admissions. In addition to her occupation, Melinda has also been a Delegation Leader for People to People Student Ambassadors in which she takes high school students abroad. So far she has escorted students to Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece.
Going to college is the quintessential opportunity to expand your horizons and delve yourself deep into self-discovery. The experience is so much more than pursuing a degree. It’s forging friendships, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and all-around figuring out how you fit into the world.
The college experience has a hot foreign cousin who you haven’t met yet, though: the study abroad experience offers all of the best qualities college has to offer and so much more.
I left the United States for the first when I was a junior in college. On a whim I decided that I was going to obtain a certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. The curriculum only required a few extra classes that were not already included in my major, so it seemed like a great opportunity in order to spend the summer in Germany during the hands-on portion of the program.
It may be more than a tad cliché, but it was the most significant decision I had ever made in my entire life. To sound even more cliché, like every poster-child of studying abroad, I returned to the United States as a different person, a better person.
College-Melinda was a pretty cool chick, but World-Traveled-Melinda is so much cooler. She is more confident. She has a better understanding of the world. And she has a burning passion for adventure that keeps her life interesting to the extreme (my friends have become quite accustomed to random phone calls that consist of messages such as “Hey, there’s this super awesome Groupon for a trip to Ecuador, but we would have to buy it within the next 63 hours. We can work out the details later, just let me know if you’re interested!”)
I do realize, however, that it is hard for me to explain just how much studying abroad would change your life. After all, I don’t know you. I don’t know how cool you are… although, I’m still willing to bet that your world-traveled self would be a better-rounded and more accepting person (aka, cooler).
Since you can’t know what I’m talking about until after you’ve studied abroad, let me impart some wisdom on you that will hopefully convince you to take that chance.
Let’s start with the most basic and practical: it’s cheap! Now I’m not claiming it wouldn’t be an investment whatsoever; it’s kind of one of those “you’ve got to spend money to save money” type of deals. But now that I have been to 22 nations on 4 continents, I can confidently tell you that traveling abroad through a college-based program is your most cost-efficient opportunity to go to leave this country.
Becoming an internationally experienced individual with a global perspective is a huge movement in the higher education setting right now. Colleges know that occupational industries desire such experiences. Therefore, study abroad opportunities have been flourishing. And since colleges know it is in their best interest to produce students who will graduate with these experiences, they want to do whatever they can to help you go! Their connections and status help you receive reduced prices for travel, and scholarships are widely available as well.
But this brings me to the next perk: it’s planned for you. If you have never left the United States before, it can be quite the daunting task. It’s more than worth it, but that doesn’t make it any less intimidating. Taking care of flight arrangements, ground transportation, and lodging for your entire experience is a huge weight off of any traveler’s shoulders. And, while it depends on the program, there is plenty of freedom to be had while abroad in order to make the most of the experience in your own way.
One of the reasons you’ll be able to make the most of the experience: you’ll be in good company. If you are reading this article, I will assume that you have at least some interest in making this endeavor happen. Even if it is a slight inclination, that still makes you a certain kind of person. I’m sure you and I would get along great. Because people who are attracted to experiences like studying abroad are, not only smart opportunists, but also curiosity driven individuals who are also compassionate and understanding. Having the desire to leave the United States demonstrates someone who wants to experience the world in order to forge a better version of him/herself.
Traveling with others is always better than traveling alone, and the more, the merrier. Being able to share your unique experience with others helps you embrace it more, because you have the opportunity to discuss your reactions and thoughts. You will also develop life-long friendships. Even though my initial voyage abroad was almost a decade ago, it never gets old to get together with my friends and have reminiscent conversations that being with “Do you remember that one time when we were in Germany…” Reminiscing on the experiences you’ll have will not only come in handy for nostalgia purposes, though.
One of the most observably applicable reasons to study abroad is: it provides a wealth of experiences to call on during an interview. No matter what field you are pursuing, some of the most frequently used interview questions consist of the line “tell us about a time when…” Whether the question will be related to a time you went outside of your comfort zone or a time you demonstrated leadership, etc., studying abroad is guaranteed to provide you with the sorts of experiences that will make you standout from other applicants.
In order to end on a fun note, however, the last reason that I suggest you study abroad: it’s fun! While everyone has a different version of fun, that’s still the beauty of traveling; the trip is going to be whatever you make of it. While I was in Australia, my favorite experience was when I was at The Great Barrier Reef and a green sea turtle let me approach her, touch her, and literally spin her in the water. While I was in Peru, my favorite experience was watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu. While I was in France, my favorite experience was getting caught in a rainstorm while we were at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
As you can probably imagine, my list of favorites while traveling has become an extremely long one over the years. But I still have an especially tender spot in my heart, as well as a particularly dense list of favorite experiences, when I think of Germany. Ich liebe Deutschland, because this country was the gateway to me finding a better version of myself.
Happy travels, and enjoy finding yours.