Foreign study: life’s classroom

When most people think of foreign study, the classroom aspect is a mere formality.  Academic adventures are overshadowed by Absinthe and Amsterdam; movies like Euro Trip and Beerfest become the hallmark of an overseas experience.  Before coming to study in Germany for a semester, I worried more about whether my class times would interfere with my inevitable hangovers than I did about my scholastic performance.  I realized upon arriving, however, that Europe is not actually just a booze-soaked adult playground, and textbooks are perhaps the smallest aspect of learning while studying abroad.

Life in the classroom in Germany is not vastly different than it is in the States.  I can’t speak for other study abroad programs, but yes, my American peers and I attend almost every class, do the daily homework, take weekly tests, and are generally concerned about our GPAs.  If anything, my attendance and study habits have improved because there are only four students in my daily German language class.  Each of the courses I’m taking here is also offered at my home university.  In my study abroad program, I am earning four semester’s worth of language credits in only one, probably the largest item on the plus side of my mental Pros and Cons list before coming.  It’s intensive, to say the least, but what I learn in the classroom pales in comparison to the wisdom I like to think I’ve gained outside of it.

I’ve survived one of the worst German winters on record, completed multiple transactions with only hand gestures and pleading eyes, gotten used to be stared at for looking, acting, and speaking differently, mastered public transportation, taken last-minute trips to other countries with only a change of clothes and my camera, and quite simply grown up.  Coming abroad has thrust me out of every comfort zone I’d ever built for myself, it’s challenged any preconceived notions I had about unknown people and places.  To say living alone in a foreign country has opened my mind is a gross understatement.  I am 100% more tolerant of differences in others, more prone to realize I need help and ask for it, more confident and sure of myself as an adult, more thankful for the luxuries I have at home, and more appreciative of the relationships with my family and friends.

Yes, German beer is great and I’ve been to a coffee shop in the Netherlands.  Foreign countries aren’t automatically glamorous, and there are days I’m bored and just want to watch movies in my room.  While there have been many times that make me long for the familiarity of home, I’ve never once questioned my decision to study abroad.  While foreign study is not for everyone, my time here has dispelled the rumor that those who do it are only looking for an extended vacation.  Not only do I have 17 credit hours toward my degree, I have an amazing life experience that’s taught me far more about the rest of the world than I could ever get from reading any book at my home university.

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