The experience of studying abroad
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
Less than a month ago I found myself in a Muslim dominated country in Asia named Indonesia. If you don’t know where Indonesia is—that’s okay, many didn’t when I told them—I suggest you go to a map and find it, it’s right next to Australia.
I had to let go of all stereotypes and allow myself to experience another culture firsthand, and not by the one-sided tales of others. Studying abroad was no ordinary experience, and therefor I had to open my mind to new things.
There were many people that used to tell me, “Go study abroad, you wont regret it. It will be one of the best things you ever did.” I would respond by saying, “sure, if I had all the money in the world I would go.”
Fortunately, UTEP made it easier for me to go study abroad. My experiences in Indonesia were grand, and with the help of UTEP, RARE and USAID, I was able to spend a whole month there along with 12 other students. I still don’t know if a month was enough time. And by enough I mean that it might have been too short, or too long.
I’m glad that I went to Indonesia instead of a country like Spain, where everybody and their grandparents go. I wanted to go someplace where I would have to learn a new language, and an entire new culture. I’d be too familiar with Spain, beginning with its language.
Being away made me appreciate many things from home like my options in food,—because all we ate over there was rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner—clean water and a comfortable bed with no rats, bugs or geckos underneath.
Immersing in a different culture also gave me the chance to reflect upon the lifestyle I carry. Seeing the Muslim community so committed to their religion made me realize how much of a freelancer I am with mine.
Other experiences I had were life threatening, but I lived to tell it all. I would often find myself questioning my food, or looking for a western toilet, because all they had were toilets where you have to squat down to poop. I also found myself running away from a tribe of savages that wanted to cook me alive. No, I’m joking, that last one didn’t happen. If people on the trip ran from anything it was a tarantula or a snake. Maybe even a crocodile.
There are pros and cons—more pros, I would say— to studying abroad. They all vary with different people. Since some students are not used to being away from home for long periods of time, they tend to get homesick, which then leads to being cranky.
You must be mentally and physically prepared for culture shock. If you have never left your house for a long period of time you need to know that not everything will be easy and available on demand. I would suggest to try an adapt quickly to the customs and food. It makes it easier on you and the rest of the group you’re traveling with.
Going to Indonesia was an amazing experience that changed my perspective on life. It made me realize that we are very privileged in the United States, and that is everyone. I came back more humble appreciated simplicity.
Seems like I’ve joined the faction of people that brag about studying abroad because I’m about to tell everyone that traveling abroad is one of the best decisions you can make.
Alejandro Alba may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.