When telling people about my undergraduate experience, I always cite my time in Russia as the absolute highlight of my college career. Not only was living in another culture filled with daily adventures and exciting experiences, but it led to personal and professional growth that I might not have obtained had I stayed inside the cozy walls of my quaint New England college. My experiences is Russia have convinced me that stepping out of your comfort zone and into another culture has the ability to drastically impact your perspective, character, and career, and I am passionate about promoting studying abroad as one of the best investments you can make in your four years at college. In an ideal world, I would love to sit across from you with a cup of hot tea and answer all your questions, but since that’s not possible, I’ll try my best to give you a taste of the excitement that awaits you with four reasons that studying abroad was the best decision I made in college:
I am unashamedly addicted to adventure. Being transplanted to a new place immediately heightens your senses, and things that you wouldn’t have noticed in your home country evoke a sense of awe. From trying exotic cuisine to dancing in traditional Russian dress, every day offered me the chance to do something I could only read about in America.
Performing a Russian folk dance in Nizhniy Novgorod, 2010
Not only does a new environment inspire a fresh perspective, but you are challenged to change your approach to bumps in the road. G.K. Chesterson said that, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered,” and studying abroad has taught me to embrace this philosophy wholeheartedly. While abroad, I have gotten on the wrong plane, gotten stitches from a crazy Russian dentist, and almost overstayed my visa, but with each progressive situation, I have learned to approach “inconveniences” with a sense of adventure, openness, and flexibility.
Getting Ready for Stitches after an Accident on the Ice
2. Language Learning
I am a little biased toward this reason, since one of the main reasons I studied in Russia is because I am in love with the language. Although a semester will not automatically make you fluent, being immersed in the language is one of the best and fastest ways to increase your proficiency. After my eight weeks in Vladimir, Russia, through the CLS Program, I crossed a threshold on the ACTFL Scale. Being immersed in the language also taught me about setting realistic and measurable goals in both language learning and personal development, which is a skill that continues to carry over into many other parts of my life.
Some of the best friends I have made, both American and Russian, I have met abroad. If you are traveling with a group of Americans, it is refreshing to find people who have similar interests as you. Instead of getting a quizzical stare when I would try to explain my love for Russia, conversations about Russian literature, language and cultural faux pas would flow naturally.
In my cross-cultural relationships, I also gained a different dimension to my definition of friendship. In Russia, friendship carries a much more serious connotation than it does in America, so to be considered a Russian’s friend is a great honor. Learning how to navigate cross-cultural relationships is one of the most difficult, but most rewarding parts of studying abroad, and the depth and warmth of Russians is one of the main reasons that I keep going back.
4. Professional Development
I am convinced that no matter what question I get in a job interview, I will be able to answer with a story or situation from my time abroad. “How do you work with personalities different than your own?” I can cite numerous examples of interacting with Russians. “How do you adapt to unexpected situations?” I can talk about the time my group was stranded in Moscow or I got lost in the middle of Southern Russia. “Tell me about your track record with setting goals and achieving them.” I can talk about my perseverance in studying the language. Studying abroad was filled with so many real life situations which were magnified by the cross-cultural tension, and I know that these concrete examples represent growth and life skills that I might not have obtained had I stuck to writing research papers and making my biggest adventure a trip to Boston on a Saturday night.
Are you convinced yet? Still have more questions? Wherever you’re at concerning the possibilities of studying abroad, the best place to find answers is from people who have gotten the experience themselves. This is why I am so excited about the Institute for International Education’s new book, A Student Guide to Study Abroad. I was privileged to be interviewed by one of the authors, Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, about my experiences studying through the Critical Language Scholarship. My friend Cody, who has studied in Russia and Bahrain and has traveled to South America and Africa, is also quoted in the book.
The book is filled with practical advice from students who have studied abroad on choosing a program that fits your strengths and needs, preparing for your time abroad, and making the most of your cross-cultural experience. I think it will be an excellent resource for any prospective globetrotters. My copy is in the mail right now and I can’t wait to read it! Read excerpts from the book and pre-order here!