Column: Studying abroad can supplement your skills with worldly knowledge

By Angelina Cole

As the college years continue to add up, it becomes apparent that students are no longer the social butterflies they were in the beginning of their journey. Instead, shackles and chains appear around ankles and wrists, tethering them to the all-important, all-consuming resume. However, a well-balanced resume will not be made up of basic extracurriculars, a stellar GPA and other applicable life skills. A well-balanced resume, like a well-balanced person, will also contain a bit of worldly knowledge of the world.

In retrospect, I have no idea whatever possessed me to want to study abroad. Perhaps it had something to do with my deep-seeded desire to see parts of the world I knew my family would never willingly travel to because the food would be unusual, the language incomprehensible, and let’s not even discuss transportation and lodging. I come from a long lineage of planners, but the day I turned in my first study abroad application, I planned for the unexpected.

Reluctant to spend an entire semester in a strange land without my friends, family and western toilets, I investigated further the prospects of the Study Abroad Office’s winter break programs. These two-week trips offer a crash course in culture and lifestyle based in a handful of countries at different points on the globe.

The corners I chose were Istanbul, Turkey, and Nanjing, China. Both had cultures I never thought I would experience in the near future, so when given the chance, I jumped at the opportunity.

In Turkey, Americans are welcome, but they will take you for all the Yeni Turkish Lira you’ve got at the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest covered markets in the world. Best to tell them you’re from somewhere else and tap into those language classes you had to take. The swankiest of night clubs require $1,000 (U.S.) just to sit down, and expect the cab ride home to uncannily resemble a high-speed chase from the movies.

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    In China, you have no personal space. Small children are usually seen wearing pants without crotches, so they can ‘pop a squat’ when they have to go. And forget about bringing the sunglasses because the smog covers it for you.

    Other than these simple cultural elements, I’ve learned from both of these trips that national pride transcends all language barriers and topical impressions. Turks are eager to show any foreigner their customs, share their life stories and exhibit the national treasures like the Hagia Sophia that they are so fortunate to call their own. As if that wasn’t enough, the sunset on the Bosporus Strait is unlike any other in the world.

    In China, it is harder to be so ambiguous, but the flip side is that every person is eager to practice his English with you. In addition, the breakfast of hot vegetable buns, turnip pancakes, “breakfast burritos” (for lack of a better expression) and piping hot soy milk can be found right on the street first thing in the morning.

    Karaoke is so popular in China that buildings as big as skyscrapers are dedicated to the activity, and despite the air pollution, everyone smokes. But on a rare, clear day, China’s rich culture pours forth from all parts of the landscape from the architecture to the atmosphere of the country’s landscape.

    Both trips were different and special in their own distinct ways, but what I’ve learned about the people who live there and how to navigate the social lifestyle are irreplaceable. Such things cannot be taught in a classroom by any stretch of the imagination.

    Because of this element alone, study abroad has shown me how people live instead of just reading it in a textbook.

    To a prospective employer, this knowledge is invaluable, especially if companies need a liaison to a foreign country or are considering expansion. It also demonstrates your open mind toward other cultures and flexibility when it comes to communicating with others.

    What more could you ask for in any college experience? You get to see sights, learn a lot about people you normally wouldn’t encounter and have a fantastic time doing it.