Make Studying Abroad an Absolute Part of Your Education
By Pegah Zardoost, NSHSS Student Council Member 2008 – 2011, U.C. Berkeley Class of 2012
From June 2010 to June 2011, I had the great pleasure of living and studying in the town of Lund, Sweden. Lund is a mid-sized town that thanks to its relatively mild climate and top-notch university, and probably the English-language skills of Swedes, attracts a sizeable number of international students, totaling about 2,000 each academic year. I could be wrong, but I certainly haven't noticed that many international students at my home university. But in Lund, it's visible and audible. It's lent a cosmopolitan air to the old cathedral town (quite literally) which in all fairness, has a fairly diverse population of its own, a feature it shares with much larger Swedish metropolises like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and neighboring Malmö. I was drawn to Sweden because my mother had lived there in her late-twenties and loved it, and so I'd heard about it all my life. When I was deciding where to study abroad, it was a no-brainer that at least my mother would be a cheerleader of this decision.
I found that people often asked me "Why Sweden?" in a way that I doubt they would have if it were France or England, and yet I found a great many international students there who hadn't come in pursuit of fulfilling the same sort of maternal patriotism that had drawn me to Scandinavia. I should think that if those people had been asked "Why Sweden?" they would have answered back with "Why not?" Although "why not?" is sometimes just enough of a reason itself, thankfully there are many reasons to study abroad, and many more that each individual harbors themselves.
You've heard these before, or so I hope: "Study abroad to gain new experiences," "Study abroad to meet interesting people," "Study abroad to learn a new language," and further. While those are all true, the fact-of-the-matter is that you could do all of those things in the comfort of the Fifty-States. So why, then, go abroad? First and foremost, do it for yourself. I found that I was getting bogged down in extracurricular activity at my home university and wanted a fresh start. Studying abroad allowed me to do exactly that. I went from a life full of political activity, to taking the stage again, as well as directing & producing a full-length, profitable production – an experience of a lifetime. I decided to go abroad when I realized that there might never again be such an opportune time in my life to suddenly move to another country for an entire year. I knew that I'd enter law school soon after my undergraduate career and that work, repaying student loans, and starting my own family would make such an endeavor nearly impossible.
I encourage each of you to think about how going abroad could enrich your life, rather than put it on hold. Yes, it's hard to say goodbye to dear friends and family, but thanks to Internet and technology, it's that much easier to stay in touch with them. I understand that with increasingly dwindling course offerings, you may find it a daunting task to plan required coursework around studying abroad – do it anyway. It can sometimes involve a lot of legwork and convincing, but it will absolutely be worth it. Not everyone can go for a full year, but even if all you can do is several weeks in the summer or a semester, do so. Although I advise that "the more the merrier," is a concept that absolutely applies to your time abroad.
As an American, going abroad can be a beautiful experience in modesty and humility, and the number of personal characteristics and experiences it can enrich and enhance are endless. Studying abroad is not a ticket to some sort of euphoria, but it is certainly a pathway to opportunities to create your own uniquely enjoyable experience. For myself, that meant learning Swedish and using the language frequently in order to feel truly a part of my new society. For others, that means having 'more fun' than you can get away with at your home university. As long as you create your oasis of happiness in a safe and respectful way, don't let judgments and expectations get in the way of your unique endeavor. Studying abroad will not only help you find a new place to call home, but it will help you find yourself. As cliché as that sounds, I can't contest that it's true.
Think about yourself and how studying abroad can help you live your own life to the fullest. The rest, the planning, the adventures, they will come.
Feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're considering studying abroad and have any questions or would like guidance.