Consider study abroad as more than a cliche

By Kimberly Ngoh, Columnist

With only four weeks of the school year underway, I can already feel my daily routine turning into a kind of brand ambassador for ennui. All my energy is directed toward staying awake in class, going to meetings and aggressively applying for internship positions. In the midst of this universal hustle, I’m starting to deviate from the mindset I promised to myself this year. Thus, at the risk of sounding cliche like every other girl claiming “studying abroad is an experience unlike any other,” I’ve decided to shed light on the experience that taught me lessons I’d regret not to share.

I studied abroad in Singapore this summer for eight weeks – a sufficient time frame to create a lasting impression on my college experience. As an international student, attending college in Illinois is technically a “study abroad” experience. The disparity between the two lies in the renewed excitement of a foreign city — accents, and new food and friends – all only available for a finite amount of time. We get to reset the factory setting of ‘stressy-depressy’ junior to starry-eyed freshman.

I’ll admit, I initially saw my study abroad experience solely as an opportunity to make my summer productive; I applied for a research internship program instead of taking classes. Other than that, I planned to explore touristy spots in Singapore on my own.

Before starting, I was handed a list of names of people attending the same program, but it never occurred to me these people would end up shaping my college experience. It rectified my misconception that exploring other parts of Asia was unnecessary, since I lived in Malaysia all of my life prior to college. I have no regrets about hopping on a ferry to arrive in Batam, Indonesia, within an hour, nor do I wish I could take back island-hopping in Krabi, Thailand, and riding motorbikes in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Living abroad may seem daunting, what with taking the plunge into a completely new environment, sometimes with a language barrier thrown in. But that’s where half the fun of studying abroad stems from: being tested in your resilience to change, adaptability to a myriad of cultures, ultimately leading to your willingness to step out of your comfort zone. In fact, there’s a sense of gratification when you finally master looking the right way for cars coming down the road, or when you no longer need to hold up the line to count your coins and figure out the public transportation system.

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Aside from a personal appreciation of difference, I found the experience allowed me to consider the notions and perspective of the host country itself, satiating my unrelenting urge to explore not just places but cultures, too. I didn’t just observe – I sought to understand why and how they function the way they do.

To paraphrase the hackneyed  “you only live once,” studying abroad truly is a once-in-a-lifetime deal that teaches you to appreciate the present, not cringe about the past or worry too much about the future. The ease of studying abroad now, as compared to the logistics of traveling as an adult with a full-time job, is reason enough for you to go forth and live the best years of your life. And if you’re worried about missing out on a semester here, then take advantage of winter and summer programs.

Everyone knows the value and novelty of travel, but my point stands: Your experience living and studying in a foreign city is unlike anything you’ll likely ever experience again.

Kimberly is a junior in Engineering.

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