By: Della Giguere
Upon returning from a 5-month semester abroad in beautiful Switzerland at Zurich University of Applied Sciences, it is only sinking in now how many incredible experiences I had while living abroad. I find it ironic that it was a semester to “study” abroad but most of my learnings came from outside of the classroom.
The term “study abroad,” I believe, is really about self-discovery and embracing new cultures. I think it is great that McMaster University and BizX Exchange allows you to transfer your exchange credits back as pass or fail – meaning the students who choose to study abroad will not be penalized for focusing on other experiences they may have outside of the classroom. Without the stress of maintaining a top notch GPA, students are more inclined to step out of their comfort zone and explore their new surroundings.
Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.Gustave Flaubert
These are some of the things that I learned from studying abroad:
Take in the culture around you
I travelled to many different countries around Europe and I did my best to interact with locals in each of these unique places. Learning about local culture and exploring areas that haven’t been trampled with tourism will give you a real feel of what it is like to live in that certain culture. Even your home away from home will most likely be very different from what you’re used to. Don’t spend time constantly comparing your home abroad to home; you are bound to be disappointed by what is unfamiliar to you if you always compare it to what you know and are comfortable with. Get excited about exploring new things and learning from different cultures.
Try new things
When outside of your comfort zone already abroad in a new country, why not continue the trend of challenging yourself? It’s amazing what you can learn when you push yourself to try new things. I’m afraid of heights – I’ve never even been on a roller coaster – but I was convinced that the views of Switzerland would be even more amazing from the sky. So I decided to go paragliding in Luzern, Switzerland. Totally outside of my comfort zone, but I learned that I could handle the height and may even consider doing it again one day.
Embrace the unexpected
Similar to any trip, you will encounter many unexpected things while travelling abroad. Whether it be delayed flights, train derailments or bad hostel mates there is always an opportunity to see the positive side of things. So what – you are at the airport longer than expected? Take the time to write a little blurb about your trip or read a book. Train derailment? You have extra time to explore the wonderful city you’re in – no need to panic. The more you plan, the more the chance there is that your plan could go awry so sometimes it is better to travel on the whim and embrace the changes as they come.
Do not dwell on your home life
Homesickness may be hard to overcome in the beginning, but its important to remember that your friends and family will be there when you get back. The more you try to immerse yourself in the present and make a new life in your home abroad, the less homesick you will feel. Be flexible and open to other points of view; this may even give you a new perspective and appreciation for home when you return.
All in all, I would encourage anyone to take the leap to study abroad (even if you believe that you’re not the type to study abroad). It is important for young adults to step out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in new cultures – it is the best way to learn about your interests and you may even gain a greater perspective or appreciation for your own culture. Continue to be open to different points of view and be accepting of other cultures. The world is your oyster and it is never too late to begin exploring it.
Della Giguere is a fourth year student in the Faculty of Commerce within McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. She studied for a single term at Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland