Kelly Flores Journal Staff
Every former exchange student and each participant of a program-gone-global will tell you, “Studying abroad changed my life,” or “I wouldn’t trade my experiences abroad for anything.” But what makes them say this? What is the universal lesson learned by each person who packs up their life in order to live somewhere new?
It cannot be the language, since students study abroad and workers live abroad with varying levels of mastery of the language. For example, some Suffolk students attend the university’s Madrid campus without ever having taken a Spanish class before, while others speak the language fluently in their own home. Yet both fall in love with the city’s charm, and by semester’s end, neither student wants to leave. And this overall sense of fulfillment cannot be credited to the different pace of life in the person’s host country either.
Whether a student in Spain must adjust to a more relaxed and longer day, or a European coming to America must adapt to a faster lifestyle and a different set of cultural and familiar values, in the end, each of these people develops some sort of routine that offers them a sense of stability in their new country. And of course, the honeymoon phase of living out of suitcase does not last long. Seeing an ancient cathedral on each street corner or hearing the fluidity with which the people around you speak in their foreign language can only impress a person for so long. Eventually, wherever you go, no matter how different you may think you seem, you will blend into the crowd.
And this is where the fervor of travelers all around the world springs from. While you are away, learning a different language, maneuvering your way through a historic city rich in culture and tradition, your family and friends remain at home, hearing little-to-no news of your adventures, struggles, and triumphs. The differing time zones detach you from their lives, and when you do have a moment’s peace to chat with them through Skype, everything comes to mind as to what to tell them, so you can’t articulate your experience at all.
Leaving your home for a temporary experience abroad shows you the importance of maintaining connections, even when the person you love may be living 2000, 3000, or even 7000 miles away from you. Living abroad causes you to realize that you aren’t owed anything by the people you’ve left behind. In actuality, it is up to you to keep up your friendships and relationships with your loved ones, usually at the cost of your sleep and your limited free time.
Often, such a privilege to pack up your things and go to a faraway place can be taken for granted, but for those that do make the effort: to experience all the city has to offer, to not be afraid to say yes in unexpected and enriching situations, and to not forget where they’ve come from and who has given them such an opportunity, the happy ending to their travels is certain. After stepping off the plane and hugging those that come to meet them at the airport, the only thing to say that comes to mind will be, “Studying abroad changed my life!”