When I decided that I was going to apply to study abroad during my junior year of high school, I was bombarded with a million questions that in the moment I didn't know the answer to, but now they just sound stupid.
"Why would you want to leave your life for a year?"
Because it will be there when I get back. Because I plan on making a NEW one in my host country. Because (while I have a nice life) what's so GREAT about my life that I would choose to stay instead of live in a beautiful foreign country for a year?
"Do you even speak Spanish?"
Have you ever heard me speak a lick of Spanish? Probably not because I failed my Spanish finals with a 42%. One of the reasons I applied to study abroad in SPAIN was to learn SPANISH. While I speak great Spanish now, I hardly spoke a word when I first got to Spain. I came to Spain with intent to learn Spanish, and HEY, I did! (Pats self on the back.)
"Aren't you going to miss your friends and family?"
Why do you even ask this? I mean of course I will miss my friends and family but I'm willing to take 11 months away from them in order to see the world, make new friends, live with a new family.
What I really wish I could say to the people who ask these questions is, "Just think a little. I'm leaving the country for a year to learn culture and language. And YES I am going to miss my friends and family, because they're my FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Its normal that I would miss them. But I'm really doing this all because I think that in the long run it will help me a lot. My future college major, job, life, family will all be shaped around the year that I had in a foreign country when I was 16."
I'm currently eight months into my exchange year in Spain and I have two months left before I leave. This has without a doubt become one of the best years of my life. I don't want to say THE best year of my life because I'm only 17 years old and hopefully I will have many better years to come. The beginning of the year was great because everything was all new and everything I saw was exciting. The middle of the year was pretty boring (just as it would be if you stayed in your home country) and the end of the year is awesome so far because at this point, I'm allowed to travel around and see new things and I also understand the language, so the whole being confused all the time is finished.
From everything I have experienced so far during my exchange year, I can give you a definite list of reasons you should study abroad at least one time in your life.
1. SCHOOL AND JOBS
Other than the fact that you will most likely be fluent (or at least sufficient) in your host language, colleges LOVE seeing that you've had a year of study abroad. It proves independence, leadership and an interest to learn/try new things.
2. INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
During my year in Spain, I have met people not only from Spain, but some of my BEST friends are from other countries. I had the great opportunity to meet a girl from Iceland, where the population is roughly 300,000 which means that about 0.000045% of the worlds population is Icelandic and the odds that I met someone from Iceland is REALLY rare. I can now happily say that she is one of my best friends, along with girls from Turkey, China and other parts of the United States.
3. COMMUNICATION SKILLS
I will be the first one to admit it. I used to be (and still am) TERRIFIED of confrontation. Confrontation as in facing my problems, but also confrontation like asking the Walmart employee where I can find glass jars. Ever since I was little, every time I was confronted with a problem, I would start tearing up and be completely unable to respond and then just break out crying. My whole family always encouraged me (or made fun of me, whichever way you decide to look at it) to face my fears and my fears happened to be confrontation and communication my thoughts. When you live in a foreign country, the only way to solve your problems is to communicate them to others. You will become a master at communication because you will be forced to communicate them in a language other than your native tongue and sometimes it can take up to 45 minutes just to explain what a Jack-O-Lantern is and how/why its used during Halloween.
4. YOU FACE YOUR FEARS
Like I had said before, I used to be deathly afraid of confrontation. Luckily, how humans are, when we change one thing, we want to change everything. Its kind of like how after a bad break up, girls will go and dye there hair or when somebody moves schools, they decide to change the type of people they hang out. When you move to another country, everything is so new and EVERY THING IS SCARY. In order to live in a foreign country, you have to face your fears. Fear of pronouncing something wrong when trying to order a hamburger. Fear of being alone (face it, you're an exchange student and your friends are just going to magically pop up and be by your side forever. You have to remember that you will be alone for a while until you form relationships with the people on your school). Fear of bugs (trust me there will be a whole bunch of new little insects before that you've never seen in your home country). Fear of heights (some of the best sights in the world are from hundreds of meters above sea level). Or for me, fear of confrontation.
5. NEW EXPERIENCES AND FOODS
This has got to be one of the biggest things. When you sign yourself up to study abroad, you are signing yourself up to do, see, eat, and experience things that people who don't study abroad, will never get to experience. I never in my life imagined watching a cooked baby pig get cut into four pieces and then actually eating it (though I felt really bad for eating a quarter of a baby pig, it was actually delicious and I would definitely do it again). I never pictured myself walking a portion of a world famous pilgrimage, 116 kilometers in 5 days and then practically dying of relief when we arrived. But I did both of those things and many more, and so many people I know will never have the opportunity to do anything like I've been doing for the past 8 months.
6. YOU LEARN MORE ABOUT YOURSELF
During my year abroad in Spain, if there was anything I did, it was learn who I am as a person. I've learned the kind of people that I am compatible with... and the kind that drive me insane. I've learned that a lot of times, I prefer my own company to the company of others. I've practically planned, took apart and then re-planned my whole entire future, all shaping around my experiences during my exchange. I've learned that (though they're a pain in the butt), I have a passion for languages and that in the future I either want to learn more languages, or I want to further my study in Spanish.
7. "Variety is the spice of life"
It really is. If you sit around your whole life doing the same things, you won't be happy. What most people think the purpose of life is, is along the lines of this: get good grades, get a good job, have a family, pay bills, retire and die peacefully. But tell me that doesn't sound boring. As an exchange student you are given the opportunity to explore cities with thousands of years of history, meet people who were born on the exact opposite side of the world as you, learn a language so that you can communicate with all kinds of different people. I mentioned early about how as I've been slowly finding out how I am as a person, I've been planning my life. While it shares common themes as that of someone without study abroad experience, I can honestly say that as long as my whereabouts in life are constantly changing, I will be happy. I plan to study abroad again during one of my four years in college. After college, with a degree in international business, I will be able to take job offers in other countries or take a job in the Unites States that requires travelling. When I finally settle down and have a family, my kids will be given every opportunity I've had as a kid. Study abroad, learn a language, see the world.
While many people have unrealistic expectations about travelling the world for years, never having to work, being expense free, studying abroad has showed me that travelling the world doesn't necessarily need to be a vacation. You can study, work or live in other countries during your life and enhance the way you look at things. I now understand that there is, indeed, a world OUTSIDE of the United States. I've finally been shown what the world is like and now I won't rest until I'm full of knowledge about the different cultures, languages, people and lives that are out there. I feel like every minute that I'm not out there meeting new people from different places are minutes lost.