Well friends, I’m back in America. I’ve had a nice 9 day trip around Austria and Italy with my parents (and a few days at home) to reflect on my semester, and I’ve come to one overwhelming conclusion: no amount of reflection will suffice to process these past 5 months, anyone who’s studied abroad will tell you that. I could write a 12 page blog that nobody wants to read outlining the details of my personal growth and life changing adventures, but for obvious reasons, I’ll refrain. So instead, for any future “Study-abroaders” out there (or my sweet family who will read anything I write), here are 9 pieces of heartfelt advice from an over-eager abroad vet:
1. That paper you have to write?…It can wait.
No, I’m not saying you should blow off all school-work, though, a semester abroad is likely to be your easiest semester, academically speaking. Rather, I’m trying to say that when deciding between seeing Anna Netrebko at the Vienna State Opera on Monday night and logging 500 words for your Austrian Art and Architecture class (my apologies for the case-specific examples), put down the computer and get your butt out the door. You’re only abroad once…or perhaps more if you’re lucky 🙂
2. Travel alone, at least once.
The moments I cherish most from being abroad were moments spent in self-reflection, usually on the train back from one of my many adventures through Europe. Time spent alone whilst exploring the world allows you to examine who you are – you can unpack your deepest thoughts, passions, dreams, and the things you hold dearest in life. It is in the solitary moments that you truly find yourself…and believe it or not, making friends with random strangers is way easier when you’re on your own – and because everyone knows talking to strangers is a great idea (sorry, Mom).
3. Europe has not yet caught on to the value of free water and bathrooms.
Ergo, carry a water bottle everywhere you go and cherish every free bathroom you find.
4. Allow yourself to pick up new habits, new personality traits, and new ways of living.
I love the “Viennese” Mo that emerged while abroad – the tranquility that comes with being silent in public (I’m looking at you America…). I love that I finally figured out how to take time for myself to recharge – over a 3 hour coffee date, or a sunny day in the park with a good book, or a One Tree Hill Marathon in my favorite cafe. I love the solitary museum junkie that came to life in the antiquity of Europe, residing in Vienna’s (and many other cities’ ) countless museums. I love who I became in Vienna, and I intend to keep that girl alive wherever my life takes me.
5. Immerse yourself as much as possible in your host culture.
I’m quite sure you’ve heard this one before, yet few people really take this to heart while abroad. From learning the language to meeting new people, find the heart and soul of “your” country while abroad. Richness of experience does not come from going out every night with other Americans (though nights like can certainly be a healthy taste of home for any American college goer). Instead, I found that my love for Vienna came when I managed a 20-minute conversation in German with my non-English speaking horn professor, or when he started to tear up at my last lesson. It came when I made friends with the sweetest 18-year old Austrian girl named Hannah on a train from Graz to Vienna. Or when I spent a weekend in Sankt Wolfgang im Salzkammergut (AKA the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen) with a wonderful couple that took me in as their pseudo host-daughter. Or when I played French horn with a bunch of random 40-year old men in a biology lab because its the only place they could rent out. Those are the moments that shape your experience and who you become in your time abroad.
6. Keep hold of what’s important to you.
It’s really easy when you’re abroad to throw all caution to the wind and abandon everything you know in an attempt to “be a new person.” Keeping hold of my love for home, my closest friends, and most importantly my faith, did not diminish my experience whatsoever – quite the opposite actually. My time abroad helped me appreciate the incredible blessings I have at home in CO, in my family, and in my friends, and it allowed me to grow closer to God as He proudly showed me His creation. Whatever is important to you when you leave home, hang on to it wherever you go.
7. Budget your semester, but don’t be overly frugal (if said budget allows).
I spent most of my semester counting every penny (or Euro cent) I spent, constantly worried about my finances. What I failed to realize: money comes back, but the experiences don’t. That trip to Prague that I didn’t take, that museum I thought was too expensive, that tea set I wanted all semester but didn’t buy – they weren’t worth the extra money I have in my pocket driving home from the airport. *Disclaimer – don’t forget to budget, however, because failure to do so may result in very unhappy parents…*
8. Let yourself fall recklessly in love.
No, I’m not saying find your significant other abroad (though, it does happen for some lucky people). I’m trying to say this: keep your heart as open as possible. Let yourself fall in love with new places, new foods, new friends, new perspectives, and most importantly, allow yourself to fall in love with…well, yourself! For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I love who I am, or rather who I’ve become – because it took 5 months of living halfway across the world to appreciate its grandeur, and to find my extremely small place in it. The world has taught me humility, open-mindedness, resiliency, and most importantly, the absolute importance of love. So fall in love, because there is so much out there worth loving.
9. Be thankful.
Not everyone gets the crazy awesome experience of going abroad, and recognition of that blessing is key to enjoying it to the fullest. Whenever I got homesick, or started wallowing in self-pity, I remembered that I was living in freaking Europe, in Vienna, Austria studying music and suddenly, thankfulness took over and helped me to fully appreciate the experience I was blessed with. If you ever get the opportunity to study or live abroad, be grateful each and every day.
If you’re reading this, thanks for hanging in there with me – whether it was from day one of my starry-eyed, amateur blog or if this is your first read. I appreciate you regardless, with all my heart. I assure you, any future travels will find their way back to this humble WordPress page, but only God knows when that will be…literally. If you can’t tell, these 5 months have changed me for the better (I hope) and I certainly am already missing my home (far) away from home. BUT, I’m thrilled to be back in the USofA and can’t wait to catch up with some of you lovely people in person (translation: I miss all of you and want endless friend/coffee dates). I will be back, but for now, “Bis Bald!” (“till next time!”)