There are many reasons to do a study abroad program. We all know the advantages: broadening your horizons, exploring a new culture and way of life, becoming more open to people from all sorts of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It sounds great on paper. In reality – it’s also pretty much one of the most amazing things in life. Still, not everyone is convinced that traveling abroad and living there for a while are so great. Every day I see people on Facebook upload hundreds of photos from far-away lands. Great, you travel. Good for you. Tourism is economically a very important thing. So is having a holiday once in a while. But why not take your trips abroad to the next level? Study abroad programs allow students precisely this! And not only students can take advantage of such programs. People of all ages can go abroad on, for example, a short language-learning experience (I have my eyes set on you, Sweden).
In 2013, as a student of British and American studies at my sweet Dresden University, I participated in a study abroad trip with a partner institution in Nashville – Belmont University. It was a very unique program – no classes, just some research which had to be done by talking to random students. Basically, the program consisted of 2 weeks of living in student dorms, hanging out with American students, cheering for the basketball team (Go Bruins!) and getting to know the area. It was a very relaxed program. The time spent in Nashville felt almost like a vacation but at the same time we were also quite immersed in student life.
In a series of blog posts I will sketch my experience in the US. I will try to be self-reflexive and focus on what this study abroad program taught me. Hopefully, I can inspire those of you skeptical of visiting distant lands for a study trip to give it a go!
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If you are a citizen of the US, or Mexico, or Canada, maybe this is not 100% relevant for you. Share it with your non-North American friends.
#1 reason for a study abroad program that is so so far away from your homeland:
that ‘new continent’ feeling of pure excitement
Having only ever lived and traveled in Europe, I was on cloud nine when I stepped on American soil (the floor of the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina would be more precise). Having missed my connection, a few hours later I landed in Nashville, Tennessee. The next step for the four other girls from the program and I was to find our way to the university. At 11:30. PM. In February. But hey, at least there was no snow. A shuttle took us to campus. I hoped to see more of the city but, understandably, the shuttle didn’t pass through the central areas. They never do; especially when you are full of the “I’m so close to seeing something wonderful and completely new” jitters. Without any sign of brightly-lit honky ton signs or the majestic Batman building, I went to bed in one of the student dorms on campus. But wait a minute!
“Why, hello there Mr. Batman building. We meet at last!”
That ‘new continent’ feeling lasted for about a week. Afterwards, as I reflected on my experience, I realized that I had become accustomed to the unfamiliar, the un-European, the Nashvillian, and the American. As long as you are there, however, and travel around, the initial excitement will keep resurging.
Here are a few things (both good and bad) which I, as a European, found to be peculiar:
- the food – A visit to a southern, fried food, fancy-looking, colonial style restaurant. Depending on the program and the universities, you might get treated very well, i.e. lots of free food! Belmont University, being the hospitable school that it is, treated us to tons of food – we had: fried chicken, fried fish, corn bread, more fried chicken, and the sweetest, most icy lemonade known to mankind.
- slavery remnants– briefly put, that’s not something you’re used to seeing/reading about in European museums.
- wide roads & long distances
- so, so, so much choice (I think I am subconsciously still thinking about the food)
- an extreme amount of friendliness – Americans, specifically Southerners, tend to be uber-friendly. Take it for what it is. Enjoy it. It’s not sarcasm. They are not mocking you. Don’t buy too much into it as well. They are just being polite. I am not the most social person, so after several extremely friendly encounters in the hallway, I began rushing to my room, as soon as I heard someone approaching. But not everyone gets that overwhelmed.
- One last thing! Dear Europeans, forget the reliable public transport you are used to. In America, with a few exceptions (e.g. NYC), you will need to rent a car. As firm believers in the goodness of public transport, a few of us went downtown Nashville by bus. Once. We had to pull a string instead of push a button for the bus to stop. I’d be curious to see myself from the eyes of a local: “Those damn tourists, laughing at our super normal bus strings.” On our way back we walked for a mile (is that more than a km?); then we caught a bus back home around midnight and decided to keep to our group’s cars. Also, there were no buses on Sunday. Or at least that’s how I read the instructions at the campus bus stop. Those are the kind of details which will intrigue, perhaps annoy you, but, ultimately, they will push you out of your comfort zone as well. Hey, maybe you can even hitch a ride from a fellow American student and get to see the town from a whole new perspective.
And that’s it for reason #1 to do go studying abroad! Stay tuned for the next couple hundred-million-billion reasons & stay awesome!