By: Carmen Bracho
Nearly two months ago, I returned home from studying abroad at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia. I feel incredibly fortunate to have experienced this exciting opportunity, as it was one enriched with adventure, travel, culture, and friendship; but also challenges. Being surrounded by a high-achieving student body, at the university, fostered an environment that pushed me beyond my comfort zone; leading to tremendous personal and professional growth and teaching me several life lessons. Here are my top four lessons that I wish to share.
Say yes to new opportunities
This advice was given to me prior to my exchange, and I certainly took it to heart. Saying “yes” resulted in unexpected, gratifying experiences during my exchange. The best example is when I unexpectedly agreed to join a friend on a trip to Southeast Asia. Saying “yes” gave me the opportunity to explore countries I never thought of visiting, and experience their enriched cultures. I learned about their cuisines, religions, and histories. I even got to visit Ha Long Bay, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World; an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life!
During my time abroad, I also discovered a passion for hiking. Initially, my fear of heights had discouraged me from embarking on certain hikes. Nevertheless, I fell in love with the beautiful sceneries that accompanied them and found rewards from summit hikes. As I got comfortable with hiking, I also began to overcome my fear of heights!
Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone and embark on a new opportunity; it could be the next best thing that happens to you, helping you learn something about yourself while finding a new passion.
Travel: global awareness
Travelling was one of the most rewarding experiences of my time abroad. I was fortunate to explore numerous cities in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. I fell in love with beautiful sceneries, vibrant cultures, and interesting flora and wildlife. There is an abundance of things to learn while you travel, which I certainly took advantage of it. Taking tours, visiting museums, and exploring landmarks often offer amazing educational experiences. Travelling also reminded me of how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I do, and also that it is my duty, as a global citizen, to help those in need. For many, this can be an eye-opening encounter.
Moral of the story: Immerse yourself in new cultures with an open mind and desire to learn; you might just learn more through travel than you ever did in a history or geography class!
Be organized and plan!
Planning is a crucial part of studying abroad – particularly if you plan to travel. Without planning, it would be difficult to manage school-work with travel and other additional activities. In my case, I sat down with friends at the beginning of the term – after receiving our evaluation schedules for our courses – and began arranging activities, school work, and travel on a calendar. By the time we were done, we had nearly every weekend booked! Having not done this at the beginning of the term, time would have easily passed by; with us missing out on opportunities and not saving as much money as we did by booking ahead of time.
Additionally, it is important to plan ahead for travel documentation, vaccines, and activities that may require careful planning.
Moral of the story: Planning only offers benefits. It allows you to be prepared and flexible during uncontrollable circumstances and reduces the chances of unnecessary stress/conflict.
Throughout my term abroad, I decided to keep a daily journal. The intent of the journal was to record everything I did while away; with the intention of going back on them in the future. However, keeping a journal turned out to be much more than that. It allowed me to take time out of each day to reflect; allowing me to appreciate each moment and learn more about myself; the things I value, like and dislike. It also allowed me to make changes if things were not working out well, and to relive precious moments through my written memories.
Moral of the story: Learn to cherish and value every moment. Take the opportunity to reflect on your actions and make necessary adjustments to reach your aspirations.
Carmen Bracho is a student in the Mechanical Engineering and Management program, Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University. She studied abroad for a single term at the University of Sydney, Australia.