Imagine yourself in a foreign city of an English-speaking country. Can you think of some differences you might notice between American culture and the city you have found yourself in? Does the air smell the same? Do the people act the same? Does the city look anything like you are used to? These are all questions I asked myself before I left for Derby, England for the 2013-2014 academic school year. I participated in a study abroad program through Eastern Michigan University and studied at the University of Derby for nine months.
The study abroad program here at Eastern is an experience every student should take advantage of.
Studying abroad was a period of personal, academic, and cultural growth. Not only did I gain important skills that will be used for my future career, I also created wonderful memories and made lifelong friends.
In an article published in the Journal of Social Work Education, Elizabeth Lindsey gives a list of the skills students who study abroad gain.
“Students who study abroad benefit in many ways, including increased commitment to peace and international cooperation; greater interest in transnational affairs; greater emphasis on international understanding; greater empathy of the viewpoint of other nations; improvements in their general learning style; a greater degree in intellectuality; an enhanced academic style; improved work habits; and a greater persistence.”
I have only been home since mid-May, and I can already recognize these changes in my life. I am interested in international news because I know people who live all over the world. I have also found myself far more sensitive to cultural differences and I have gained a stronger sense of self.
Before studying abroad I had never lived away from home. Living away from home was a scary thought, especially living half way around the world. Studying abroad taught me I can take care of myself, make my own decisions, and be strong in the decisions I make.
Emma Maywood, an Eastern student who studied in Derby at the same time I did, has similar views.
“My immediate reaction to the question of what I learned from studying abroad is that I learned to be independent,” Maywood said. “I learned that I could be independent. I learned to build my own safety net- and to be a safety net for others- when I was far away from my familiar safety net.”
The best part is the students who study abroad will gain these skills simply by being themselves and learning from the people they are surrounded by. In the first week of arriving I joined the Meeting Place, an international students group that met every Monday, and was able to meet students from all over the world. Students who, like me, were studying away from home in a different culture from their own and students who, like me, were there to learn about the world they live in.
I also learned a lot from the citizens of England. Befriending them has opened my mind to new ideals and ways of life. They taught me to value culture and history in a way that I could not have found anywhere else.
“I learned about a different way of schooling and learned both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Maywood. “All of the side trips I took and all of the people I met were a source of knowledge not available to me here or in books.”
My journey in England was a long one, but well worth the time. Before I left I had no idea what to expect. I had heard studying abroad was a good thing to put on a resume’, but I had no true definition of what I had gotten myself into. This experience has become a huge part of me.
Studying in England was the best experience I have ever had; I strongly believe it changed my entire life, and that every student at Eastern should take this opportunity and study abroad.