If you are in college, the idea of studying abroad has probably crossed your mind a few times. While it used to be rare for students to spend a semester or year abroad, it’s almost seen as a rite of passage for college students today. I was lucky to go to the school with the #1 study abroad program in the country, but most colleges are expanding their international programs to help turn their students into global citizens. Almost everyone I know from school studied abroad at least once, and it was amazing to see how much studying abroad can open up someone’s eyes and really change them for the better.

I spent a semester abroad in Lyon, France during my junior year of college. I was excited going into the semester and expected to have a great time, but I had no idea just how much the semester would affect me. I didn’t realise it at the time, but once I returned to the US at the end of the semester, I could really see how I had changed over the course of four months (in a good way!) If you are considering studying abroad, my advice would be to take the leap and do it! I was a little nervous before leaving for France, but once you settle into your new country, the positives of being abroad completely outweigh any negatives you might encounter. These are the changes I experienced with myself when I studied abroad, and that you may be able to expect if you study abroad as well.

I became much more independent.

Going away to college definitely makes you become more self sufficient than you were in high school, but living in another country makes it that much harder to rely on parents or others in everyday life. Going abroad, you will need to make a lot of decisions on your own, such as opening a bank account in that country, getting a phone, navigating the public transportation of your city, and planning trips. At first, it can be hard to figure all these things out by yourself (and the people in charge of your program can help you if you get really stuck), but after a while it will start to feel natural to figure things out on your own. While I was in France, I really started to feel more grown-up (even though I definitely don’t consider myself to be a real grown-up yet!)

I became more open-minded to different types of people and different cultures.

The program that I studied in was international, and out of 170 students only about 15 of us were American. So I met a lot of people from different cultures and backgrounds, and most of the best friends I made were from countries other than the US. I met a lot of French people during the semester, but also students from every corner of Europe, Canada, Latin America, Australia, Asia, the Middle East… everywhere! I made friends from countries that I knew nothing about, and I loved learning about their cultures and teaching them about mine (including a French Thanksgiving celebration)! I was surprised by how much I had in common with people from such different backgrounds, and this helped me see that no matter how different someone’s culture may be, we could still have so much in common and become good friends.

French-influenced Thanksgiving where a few of us Americans shared this aspect of our culture with friends from Canada, England, Holland, and Australia

I realised my passion for travel and international education and decided it is the field I want to work in.

My freshman and sophomore years of college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for a career, but after going abroad I realised how passionate I am about travel and international education. I felt more myself in an international setting than I ever had before, and I felt happier than I ever had. Seeing how happy I was during my semester abroad and how travelling just felt natural to me, I decided to look into working in the travel/international education industry. The summer after going abroad, I interned with Education First in Seattle and could confirm that it is the perfect industry for me! And since travel is my biggest passion, a job in that industry wouldn’t even seem like work to me since I would be doing what I love!

I discovered my incurable case of wanderlust and curiosity.

I have always been a very curious and adventurous person, but studying abroad brought that side out of me even more. Ever since returning from France, I explore as much as I can whether that’s planning trips of my own, checking out new parts of my city, or researching future destinations by reading lots of travel blogs! I feel like I’m definitely a free-spirited person, and I don’t know if I can see myself ever really settling down. I’m always looking to learn and experience as many new things as possible, and that really began during my semester abroad.

I became more aware of the fact that life is short, so you need to take advantage of it and not let opportunities or happiness pass you by!

I’m sure you’ve heard the “life is short” phrase about a million times, but I never realised how true it is until I returned from my semester in Lyon. Once I got adjusted to life in Lyon, it felt like the semester would never end, but once it was time to return to the US, it felt like no time had gone by at all. While I was in Lyon, there were so many times I decided to relax at home rather than go out and explore, because it’s not like the attractions, restaurants, and shops in Lyon were going anywhere. But once the semester ended, I realised there were so many things I wanted to do and see, but I never did because I figured I could put it off to another day. There’s nothing worse than regretting things you didn’t do, and since experiencing this after returning from Lyon, I really try to live in the moment as much as possible. Now that I’m living in New York, there are endless things to do, and especially now that it’s getting warmer, I plan to go out and do something new and exciting almost every day!

I became more easy-going and “go-with-the-flow.”

There are so many possible things that could go wrong while you’re studying abroad. To name a few I experienced: getting your wallet stolen, delayed or cancelled flights, problems loading minutes onto your retro flip-phone, having difficulty communicating in another language, public transportation strikes, going to a doctor who doesn’t speak a word of English… the list could go on and on! You’ll definitely experience some problems while studying abroad, but getting upset or overly stressed out won’t help you much. Staying calm will definitely help you come to a conclusion faster, and even if you do encounter a big problem (like getting your wallet and camera stolen the night before going to Paris for the weekend), you just need to think about how much that problem will affect you in the scheme of things. Yeah, of course it’s annoying to have to buy a new camera and get a new debit card, but a few years down the road, you won’t even think about any little problems you faced!

trying escargot (aka snails) in Paris for the first time. I was so nervous to taste it, but it ended up being so delicious!

I made some of my best friends!

I can’t mention my experience abroad without talking about the friends I made. As I said, I met so many people from all around the world who I really clicked with. I got closer to other girls I knew from my college and made friends that I still talk to almost every day. Since returning from Lyon, I’ve even been able to see some of my good friends when they came to visit the US and when I visited England in the Fall! Some of the friends I made while abroad are now my best friends, and I know I’ll be close with them for the rest of my life!

So as you can probably tell, I had an absolutely amazing experience studying abroad, and I know I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without it. I encourage as many people as possible to apply for an international program because I know how beneficial they are. Of course studying abroad in college is an amazing experience, but if you aren’t in college there are so many other programs available today to get a similar experience. There are internships and management training programs abroad, working holiday visas, international grad schools, teaching English abroad, volunteering abroad, or working abroad. And if you’re hesitant to leave the country, you could always work with international students or host someone from abroad to get a similar cultural experience! I know that there are so many more international opportunities ahead of me, and studying abroad was just the beginning!