It has now been 3 years since I returned home from London after living, studying, and working there for 4 months. To this day, I consider it one of the most formative times in my life.
It has become an almost daily practice of mine to check up on airfare to London, half out of curiosity, half out of wanton desperation to get myself back there.
And while I don’t necessarily wish this fruitless longing on anyone, I do think that if you are blessed enough to have the privilege of studying abroad (or just spending an extended period of time abroad), you should definitely do it.
If you’re someone who is on the fence about it, here’s why I think you should go:
1. The best way to learn something is to learn through personal experience.
This isn’t a new concept. If you want to learn a different language, go live in a place that speaks that language for a few months and I can almost guarantee you’ll return home speaking it fluently.
If you want to learn about the history of a country and have it stick, go visit those places – experience them with all of your senses.
I got to walk past the church that Charles Dickens got married in everyday on my way to class. I got to make my way through the Palace of Westminster and to see where the Queen sits during the State Opening of Parliament. It got to stand before Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels.
And when you live in a place for an extended period of time, you’ll see more than just the tourist traps. You’ll get to know what makes that place tick. I got to ride with the other commuters on the train to work every morning. I got to go to the pub for a pint with my coworkers after a show.
I got to feel like a Londoner. I got to call another place my home.
2. You’ll gain more independence.
I did gain more independence as soon as I starting college, considering I went to school out of state and was now almost 7 hours away from my parents. But studying abroad, I was completely on my own.
Living abroad, we didn’t have RAs even. It gave me my first experiences working with unhelpful building managers and public transportation. I was completely responsible for getting myself to work every day, without my fellow classmates. I booked plane and train and bus tickets and planned trips to take with my friends all on my own.
These experiences of being completely on my own and living in a foreign city forced me into an independence I didn’t even know I had, and I’m so grateful for it.
You’ll gain a heightened sense of adventure, an unquenchable curiosity about the world around you. Additionally, and most importantly, you’ll further develop an open mind, one that is accepting of people who come from a different place, who have a different worldview. You’ll have the opportunity to truly form your own thoughts and opinions about the state of the world, having these first-hand experiences.
3. It will allow you to break any of your “ugly American” tendencies.
Unfortunately, you’ll find people from other countries are going to have pre-formed stereotypes of you as soon as you open your mouth and speak in that American accent.
I had a professor in London, who on the first day, shared the most common stereotypes he associated with Americans. Most Brits apparently thought we were loud and had a horrible sense of fashion. (You would never catch a Londoner out and about in jeans and a t-shirt). Everywhere I went, it made me aware of myself and the group I was with – were we being too loud, or imposing ourselves too much?
I found myself wanting to hide my American-ness. I wanted to be mistaken for British. I didn’t want anyone to associate me with the United States at all.
Looking back, I don’t necessarily condone this. That shouldn’t have been my aim. Rather, I should have taken my American heritage in stride, and worked to debunk any nasty “ugly American” associations.
The best ways of doing this are showing a willingness to learn by listening and having respect for the culture you find yourself surrounded by. You are a guest in this country, after all. Show it and its people respect, and give your own country a better name.
4. You’ll learn to stop taking home for granted.
I got really homesick while I was away. It was the longest I had ever gone without seeing my family. I even had to miss Thanksgiving (it was bizarre to have to go to work that day).
When I started listening to Christmas music that year, I actually started crying when “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on because it was true – I would be returning to the States on December 23rd, right before the big day. I had developed this fantasy in my head of what the scene in the airport would look like that day, me rushing into the welcoming arms of my family, very Love Actually-esque.
Being away like that made me appreciate home in a way that I didn’t necessarily feel before. No matter how far I roam, home will always be there, just as it always has been.
It will be one of the best experiences of your life, no matter how homesick you get or how uncomfortable it may be at times. You’ll emerge from the other side a stronger you – brave, independent, and with a thirst for life and adventure.
It’s truly one of the best things I have ever done.
Have you ever studied abroad? Where did you go? Leave me a comment down below! I’m always looking for new places to travel.