Adventures in Study Abroad: Lesson 2
Ever since I was young, people have recognized my independent nature. I have always wanted to do things by myself without the help of others. In fact, I chose to walk to the bus stop with an older neighbor girl on my first day of school, leaving my heartbroken mother to watch from the window. This is simply part of who I am. It wasn’t until I had the chance to study abroad however, that I truly felt independent. I went to college in the same town where my family lived to make going to school affordable, so this was the first time I lived away from home. I was solely responsible for my studies, health, money, and more. What I ate, how often I did laundry, when I went to bed—they were all up to me, as were the consequences of my decisions.
While traveling through Europe, I was confronted by all kinds of situations that I had never experienced before. For example, I went to youth hostels across the continent and was repeatedly assigned to a room in which I was the only female. I recall being so uncomfortable the first time that I called my boyfriend back home to talk it over. It was just so unexpected for someone from my cultural background.
In Rome, I arrived at the train station without a lodging reservation. Previously I had not had problems going up to any of the hostels and getting a room, but that day was different. I wandered around the blocks surrounding the station, but found no vacancies. Then I noticed a small hotel and thought to myself, “This is what they make credit cards for. Stay here for one night and then find a more inexpensive option tomorrow.” The concierge standing guard must
have read my mind because he pointed down the street and told me to knock. I didn’t fully understand him, but hesitantly knocked on the door anyway. I was granted two nights lodging in a room of female Japanese tourists in a convent! That’s right, I stayed in a convent in Rome! How many people can say that?
After touring Munich one day, I opted for a cheap dinner at a recognizable fast food restaurant. As I sat with my sandwich and fries, a twenty-something man looked over at me and began to speak. My inability to speak German spread over my confused face. The man quickly switched to English, striking up a conversation which showed that we had something in common. We both knew Wisconsin! His girlfriend was studying in Madison and I had grown up not far from there. We talked for a bit and then he offered me a ride back to my hostel. It
was cold and dark and I was not sure of the way so I took him up on his offer. He even permitted me to call my boyfriend from the car phone in his Mercedes! A solitary dinner turned into a pleasant experience.
As I now look back on those seemingly minute moments, I see them for what they were—very naïve decisions made on the part of a young woman without the cultural cache that I know possess. I recognize the uninformed theories that I used to make those decisions and am eternally grateful that there were no serious consequences as a result. On the flipside of the coin, had I not had experiences like those, I may not have become the resourceful, culturally-informed woman that I am today. Those circumstances taught me to look for the good in people, to always have a Plan B, to assess the situation and choose the best course of action for me, and above all, I learned to rely on myself, trust my instincts, and become independent. It is these experiences that have shaped who I am today.
Please tell me how your study abroad experience has impacted your life by leaving a comment! I would love to hear from you!
I have applied my study abroad knowledge to start Global Perceptions, a communication and relocation consulting business based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. For more information on our services, visit www.global-perceptions.com or call 787.455.7764.