Immerse yourself in "abroad" range of experiences?

By Jason Schwartz

To study abroad, or not to study abroad?” For thousands of students on campus every year this is the question they must ask themselves.

Can they bear to leave Champaign-Urbana for a semester and miss out on 12.5 percent of their college careers? Well, I am here to make your decision easier and tell you the answer: do it. Go abroad and don’t think twice about it; what you lose in time on campus, you more than make up for in personal growth and adventure.

I studied abroad in Barcelona in the spring of my junior year, and it could not have been a better experience. If you want an example of personal growth abroad, look no further than the writer of this article. I would not be writing for the Daily Illini if not for my time abroad.

It was in Barcelona that I wrote a blog that allowed my friends and family to follow my travels in Europe. As a result of this, I found a passion for creative writing, and just like that, a new opinions columnist was born. That is what happens abroad; you discover new things about yourself by being in a new setting with new people. Our University offers more than 400 study abroad programs in over 60 countries, an impressive number that more students should take advantage of.

After all, studying abroad has such an immense effect on personal growth; it truly puts an individual in an uncomfortable position for the first time in his or her life.

It is at this point of uneasiness where you begin to adapt more to your surroundings by trying new things and going on new adventures.

Sure, going to college can be unsettling, but most people at this university come from the Midwest area and previously knew a bunch of people before stepping foot on campus. At the very least, you are able speak the same language as most people on campus.

Contrast this to going to a new country in a new continent that speaks a new language where you know few to no people. While the culture shock may be a scary feeling, this feeling can help prepare us later in life when we may have to take risks. Heather Besler, senior in LAS, also indicated she learned a lot while abroad. Besler studied in Barcelona last year and felt upon her return that she had become more confident and independent.

“When you are able to travel across Europe without any guidance, you realize your capabilities have no limits, “ Besler stated. She also realized new hobbies while abroad such as trying new cuisines and learning Spanish, both activities that she is sure to take with her post-graduation.

Peter Hancock, president and CEO of American International Group (AIG), similarly illustrated post-graduation benefits, specifically in the job market. “Having the trust to reveal more about yourself to other people in a foreign culture is a big leap of faith,” Hancock said. “When you realize you can do that and feel safe and more connected, it gives people confidence to do it in a work setting.”

The studying abroad experience teaches you how to work well in teams and discover what you’re truly passionate about, both qualities many hiring managers are looking for. While studying abroad may look good when applying to jobs, it is only one benefit. Instead, do it for the life-changing experience that comes with it. Putting a study abroad program on your resume is impressive, but it is the knowledge that you gain while abroad that truly makes an impact later in life.

When you’re abroad, you are immersed in so many different types of experiences that you would almost never do in America. It is incredibly easy to fall in love with hiking up various mountains, photographing the finest art and landscape in the world, or searching out new cuisines to dine on in each location visited. Whatever you think you know about yourself, throw it out while you are abroad and be open to new experiences.

Jason is a senior in LAS.

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