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Benefits of Studying Abroad and Why We Should Want to Travel the World

I wept on the street of Gustav Tschermak-Gasse in the 19th district of Vienna, Austria the morning I had to leave for the airport. I had spent the last four months studying abroad, at the ripe ol’ age of twenty, feeling like I found myself and learned so much about life.

I was scared to leave. I knew that it meant back to the whirlwind that is many of our lives here in America and that I had to step back into the pressures and expectations that awaited me back at college.

It all felt so fragile and I worried I wouldn’t be able to preserve what I gained and felt. Perhaps this awakening is why people recommend studying abroad and encourage others to travel the world.

During my time studying abroad, I visited nine countries and picked up a piece of myself in each one. I was my least anxious self. I was my most vulnerable self. I was closed off to love. And I fell in love.

I forgave and moved forward from a long and painful detachment. I explored and I learned. And I had a heck of a lot of fun while doing it. This personal growth truly felt easier and deeper because I was submerged in different cultures.

I journaled like a fiend and looking back at these entries now, there is a theme in almost every entry of me reminding my future self to do three things:

  • Live in the moment
  • Not get caught up in trivial things (don’t sweat the small stuff)
  • Say yes to adventure as much as possible

Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to travel the world and step into someone else's life. But where are the best places to study abroad?

Little did I know, I was just starting to get comfortable learning to live mindfully and that this would be a foundation for me personally and as a therapist. Yes, there’s that buzzword we’re always hearing: mindfulness!

I wonder if those who live internationally are truly “better” at living mindfully or if just being displaced from our comfort zones for a little while elicits some of these practices more effectively.

When we travel, for any amount of time, we step into a different way of living. On many levels, this forces us to slow down to pick up on the nuances of other cultures, therefore, having to spend more time with our selves. In that, we are inevitably exposed to many different parts of our self.

It might be the parts that are open to exploration and spontaneity or the parts that are uneasy about those who are different from us, for example. It is raw and when we are honest about settling into it, we experience much more than just a fun trip to post about on social media. We are changed.

Rick Steves, the travel guru, suggests that travel changes many people’s perspectives, saying we are “more selective with what [we] choose to believe.” For most of our lives, the media, our family, social circles, and our environment shape our beliefs, but when we travel we are able to explore our beliefs and values for ourselves.

Steves also talks about us being “caught up with expectations and plans that may or may not make sense” and how traveling makes you realize how fragile life is and how the little things don’t really matter when you have an increased global perspective. Yes! YOLO, Rick Steves!

Inevitably, upon traveling, it behooves one to be resilient and flexible as there are many factors that are out of one’s control. If we can learn to embrace that and go with the flow, it makes for a much more enjoyable and entrenched experience.

It is somewhat humbling to have to learn the way another culture does things – anything from how they order a coffee to what time they eat dinner to whether or not a midday nap is acceptable.

We must also largely be independent, confident, and able to think critically when on the go which differs from the auto-pilot we so often operate from in our mostly predictable daily lives at home.

Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to travel the world and step into someone else's life. But where are the best places to study abroad?

Certainly, depending on where you travel, people can develop a greater appreciation for what we have in our country relative to other countries that are not as developed or don’t have easy access to certain resources.

Our #firstworldproblems are put into perspective, therefore making room for greater empathy for people from cultures and walks of life different from our own. This also leads to improved management of our own struggles.

Students who are fortunate enough to study abroad these days have a plethora of amazing locations from which to choose. Buzzfeed has suggested twelve of the best here.

My best advice on how to choose where to study is to try to pick a place that aligns to something important to you and consider locale if the ability to travel from your primary residence once abroad is important.

Most likely you won’t need to consider where to poop as you would on a backpacking trip, but do your research ahead of time for any special requests.

I chose Vienna because as a music minor, being in the “city of music” where most of the world’s best composers were born or lived helped cultivate my appreciation of classical music.

Apparently, I was also intrigued by Adler and Freud’s contributions to Viennese society — not knowing at the time that I’d become a psychotherapist! The benefits for young adults having to navigate and practice the adaptability and critical thinking skills mentioned above promotes a resilience that can’t be taught.

Because Rick Steves is my man crush of travel, here’s one more quote that sums it up: “Traveling for an extended period of time is like stepping into someone else’s life for a while.

When you start walking in someone else’s shoes, it’s impossible to go back to your own.” If you are lucky enough to have the resources and the ability to travel or study abroad, do it! Your life will likely be forever changed for the better.

Check out more articles from Juliet Kuehnle, MS, NCC, LPC here!

Juliet Kuehnle, MS, NCC, LPC
Juliet Lam Kuehnle is a licensed professional counselor. She specializes in helping all ages with eating disorders, body image, self-esteem, picky eating, grief & loss, mood disorders, trauma, and with the LGBTQ population. She also works with lots of middle and high schoolers to help them navigate their challenges and stressors. She is trained in EMDR therapy and uses this often with trauma, phobias, anxiety, and other areas in which clients feel stuck. She spends her free time with her husband and two young daughters, watching Duke basketball & golf, and in the music scene!
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