7 Life Impacting Lessons from Studying Abroad

Once upon a time, pre-COVID, I was a college student. Bright-eyed and filled with curiosity and wonder, I chose a university that I felt would give me the best chance to form friendships and lasting relationships with the international student body.

This, on top of all my previous years of travel, fueled my desire to study abroad. Then, by the fall of my junior year, I was on a plane headed to Seoul, South Korea for a semester-long study abroad program.

Although it wouldn’t be my first time in South Korea, as I had visited numerous times for spring/summer break, it would be my first time in the country by myself, surrounded by peers my age. It was an exhilarating experience, one filled with moments of excitement, awe, and homesickness sprinkled in between.

Along with the many memories I gained along the way, the lessons I learned are just as endless and helped me to develop into the person I am today.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 8202757272_6e4f7d605b_o.jpg
One afternoon I spent by Seoul Station

Cast aside your preconceptions

From the vacations abroad and shows I watched prior, I developed a preconceived notion of what studying abroad would be. Unknowingly, I had created a checklist of standards to reach in order to have the most “authentic” study abroad experience.

But actually living through those moments are much different than the scenarios that form in your head. With that in mind, it is always best to be open towards anything you experience, and accept even the most unexpected moments.

Communication is key

In order to maintain any relationship, you must establish some form of communication. Studying abroad reminded me of this fact.

I still remember my Korean language classes that took place first thing in the morning—but I especially remember the people I took those classes with. We were lost in translation together and were able to gather enough courage to form long-lasting friendships.

In my group of friends, we spoke Japanese, Mandarin, English, and Korean. All mixed up, all the time. It taught me the importance of conveying an idea in simple terms, elaborating just enough to get the point across.

And while reaching one conclusion is most ideal, it is also important to accept the fact that your thinking might be different. Sometimes it is best to agree to disagree and while you may not understand what they are thinking, you are still able to maintain a degree of friendliness and companionship.

Developing practical skills

While this might not be as exciting or eye-opening for some, my study abroad experience taught me more practical skills, too.

Prior to this, I had not worked a laundry machine, bought my own groceries, or even knew how to cook anything other than simple dishes like rice, ramen, or breakfast foods. I was practically an infant learning how to stand on his own for the very first time.

Learning these skills was difficult at first. Despite the difficulties and hurdles that stood in my way, I knew that if I wanted to survive, I needed to learn fast — and I did just that. I learned the importance of sorting colors from whites, the sheer satisfaction of cooking your own meal, and the simple joy of a freshly ironed shirt.

At the end of those six months, I’d like to believe that I was able to fit into the mold of a functioning adult a little better. And that it is possible for me to survive on my own, away from the safety of my childhood home.

Always room to explore

Prior to my semester abroad, I had visited Seoul a total of four times for spring/summer break with my aunt. While she did ask for my input, my aunt took on the task of booking our tickets, finding lodging, and creating an itinerary to follow. All I needed to do was act as a living, breathing GPS.

I was no stranger to Seoul. I knew how to take the subway system, where the tourist attractions were, and how to effectively order food. However, studying abroad showed me that even if you know a place, there is always room left to explore.

Some of my favorite moments were the quieter ones. The afternoons I’d spend, camera in hand, walking through the surrounding neighborhood. I would allow myself to become lost in back alleys, befriend stray cats while on the lookout for cafes and shops tucked away from the main road.

Planning, sticking to an itinerary, or maintaining a routine is great, don’t get me wrong. But there are moments where it is completely fine to be spontaneous, to wade in unknown waters and discover different parts of an already familiar space.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 8174446487_d0906008e3_o.jpg
Taken on my walk around my neighborhood in Hyehwa

The importance of exercise

Yes, a big part of studying abroad are the extracurriculars — joining clubs to meet people, city nightlife, even taking guided tours to better know certain areas. These are all good and fun and make for interesting stories later on.

But being abroad also taught me the importance of exercise. That it is not enough to indulge in an influx of experiences, but to also take the time to take care of my body, too.

Thankfully, my university had a gym located at the bottom floor of the cafeteria building (ironic, right?). Despite not having any experience with gym equipment, because of the people I met, I was able to have the confidence to sign up for a semester-long membership.

They helped me to understand the importance of form, introduced me to the idea of counting calories, and encouraged me when I felt like I could not finish a rep. In the long run, I found out that I actually liked exercise and that cardio is one of my favorite things to do.

Besides, if you want to dance until the sun rises, you’ll need the energy and endurance to do so. Exercise definitely helps with that.

Gaining confidence

I was and still am very much an introvert. I like staying indoors much more than the next person and wouldn’t mind vegging out in front of my computer or laying in bed for an entire day.

Despite these anti-social tendencies and desire for plenty of alone time, I have always known this fact: you cannot avoid social interaction forever.

I like to think about it like this. Some people are afraid to leave their hometown. Some are afraid to take a step outside their door. And I get it. The world is a scary place and sometimes we need to be where we are most comfortable.

Going to that first study abroad consultation was the first step of many to building up my confidence. Throughout my experience as a study abroad student, I had to gather the courage to put myself out there. To go up to someone and say “Hey, I want to be friends with you.”

Of course, not as straightforward, but you get the idea.

Over those six months, my confidence gradually blossomed and at the end, I was able to befriend a multitude and gained countless memories that I will never forget.

The afterwards

There will always be an afterwards. A homecoming. A return to “normal”.

But if there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s this: when you return back home, things might not seem normal. And it’s natural to feel this way.

You were on a semester-long adventure, perhaps longer. It will take some time to recover from reverse culture shock and fully reintegrate back into the community of your hometown. There will be layers of complexity to coming home that will have to be unpacked, but it takes time.

When I look back, the afterwards was the most difficult. Not meeting new people or snowboarding for the first time or even explaining an idea in broken English. When I came back home, I felt like a fish out of water. I felt myself longing for the streets of Seoul, to be surrounded by people on a city sidewalk, to be on my own.

But somehow, that longing lessened. I slowly made my way back to the ground, no longer floating above the clouds. And the lesson here is this: life is always moving forward, never back. So you must also move with it.

The afterwards of a study abroad experience will be enlightening, but it will also be painful, as most endings are. However, that pain will subside and you will become a better person because of it.

I look back on my study abroad experience with affection and nostalgia. I might not be that young, bright-eyed 20-something year old anymore, but the memories and lessons I gained will live on forever.

Advertisement

2 Comments

  1. You know what’s a practical skill I wish I had? Actual cooking. And this post might be the exact thing that spurs me to buying that stainless steel pan I’ve been eyeing. Enough of my Teflon pan that’s only good for omelette. I want to sear food proper!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dyllanmykel says:

      It felt so rewarding all the times after figuring a recipe—in that I could recreate the taste over and over again. It’s definitely a series of trial and error, but so fulfilling for the body and soul.

      Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s