I know everybody says that studying abroad changes your life, but seriously—it does. I’m sitting here at home in America after 5 months of studying in Thailand and 1 month of post-study travels and I feel like a stranger in my own house. This isn’t meant to come off as negative by any means, but when you leave your country and everything you thought you knew and dive into an entirely different world, it really changes you. You shed your skin and grow a new layer of understanding and perspective.
There’s something so incredible about stripping away everything you’re used to, deconstructing every cultural norm you’ve been taught, and accepting new realities with an open mind and an open heart. It forces you to take a step back and think, “Okay, this isn’t what I was taught growing up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.” That’s right: it’s not wrong, it’s just different.
Studying in Thailand was the most amazing decision I ever made for myself. For years I dreamed of traveling to the East and exploring this different part of the world. And, finally, I had the opportunity to do so through the TEAN Thailand program. I always imagined it as this mysterious and exotic place. Well, anything unknown to us is bound to seem mysterious and exotic, right? When I got there, I quickly learned that although it is quite different, there really are many similarities. Landscapes, religious beliefs, and food culture was wildly different, but I found that friendliness, compassion, and generosity were prevalent in this country just as they are in America, or in any country, really. There are some human qualities that are universal, and you’ll see that when you travel to different countries for an extended period of time.
Many people compartmentalize and view other countries as “different” or “not like us” just because of their proximity, cultural values, languages, what-have-you. But really, we’re all the same. Yeah, we may look different on the surface, but when you dig deeper, we’re all going through the same human experience. Each person has their own story that’s just begging to be heard by someone, anyone, who has the time to listen. I encourage anyone who wants to travel to take time and find those people and listen to their stories. You learn so, so much about the world and about yourself when you hear what someone from another part of the globe has to say. It gives you an incredible amount of perspective that cannot be gained through a textbook or lecture.
I’m not here to sell the idea of studying abroad in Thailand. It’s not for everyone, just like Europe, South America, or Australia/New Zealand weren’t for me. I’m here to share my experience in the hopes that it strikes a chord of inspiration in a curious student’s heart. I was once that curious student. I still am. So I know exactly how it feels to be overwhelmed by a mountain of study abroad brochures that are sprawled across your floor. I know how it feels to look at a packet and think, “Oh, my God! This is exactly where I want to go and what I want to do”, and then pick up the next packet and think the exact same thought. It’s a hard decision, and during the process it feels like the location is the most important part of the decision. Location is important, absolutely, but it’s not the most important. It doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll have a life changing experience anywhere. What matters is how open you are to change. If you’re the type of person who loves to challenge himself or herself, I recommend studying abroad. If you’re the type of person who is comfortable living their life as they always have, then I really encourage you to study abroad. I was once that person. I was curious, but I was also quite comfortable in my little bubble. I just needed a little push—okay, shove—out of my comfort zone to realize that you don’t truly discover who you are as a person until you are placed in an unfamiliar situation.
Traveling to other places and studying in another country are beautiful things. They shake you up, wake you up and force you to look at new things with wider eyes. You might be hesitant at first, but pretty soon you’ll start doing things you never would have imagined doing—eating bugs, meeting elephants, bungy jumping off the world’s highest platform, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef—these are all amazing experiences that you can only get if you push yourself and make the decision to go. So, what are you waiting for? Jump in front of your shadow and get out there!