Have you ever noticed and wondered why the people you know who travel always come back from recent adventures with a different sort of air around them? As if they’ve brought a piece of something back with them, something new, no matter where they’ve gone – near or far? This is exactly what traveling does to you. Not sure what I’m talking about? Well, to make it easy, I’ve created a list a reasons why you should travel and how to bring something extraordinary back with you that no one can ever take away. This post is geared to students who are debating whether or not they should study abroad, for those who have never traveled abroad, those who are thinking of new horizons to visit, and those who are seasoned travelers and can relate their own stories to this post.
I urge you to travel. Imagine going somewhere foreign, unknown, that you’re curious about and want to experience. We all have somewhere in mind. Maybe it’s just a neighboring country, the opposite side of the country you live in, or clear across to the other side of the world. It doesn’t matter where you go, but go. And when you come back, I am positive you will be able to share stories in all realms of the list you’re about to read. There’s no time like the present to start something new!
1.) Having the Opportunity to Live & Study in a Foreign Country: No matter where or how far you go, whichever country you choose is always an enriching and unforgettable experience you will have with you for the rest of your life. Deep thought, right? Well, it’s the truth. I chose to study in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a couple of reasons: I wanted to go somewhere in South America to study Spanish, and I had the reassurance from my favorite and inspiring Spanish professor to go to Buenos Aires. I went in July and returned in November, and since Argentina is located south of the equator, the seasons are opposite to what I’m usually used to. July is the middle of winter in South America and it took a little bit of getting used to seeing that I had left behind 90 degree temps at home. I celebrated my birthday for the first time with hot weather in November, the beginning of summer for the country. I wouldn’t have any regrets with my choice of country, except wishing that the time didn’t pass by so fast and that I stayed longer than I did.
If learning another language isn’t your thing, no worries! You can still study abroad in one of a number of English-speaking countries, from the UK (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) to Australia and New Zealand, or the United States northern neighbor, Canada. There are also other countries in Europe and Africa that speak English as well. So, no excuses if you don’t want to learn another language. You will still encounter cultural differences in language, vocabulary, dialect, and mannerisms.
2.) Food! Food! Food! A major way to understand and learn about another culture is through its food. Every city has its own specialty worth trying. From my own travels, I’ve concluded where I enjoy each meal: I prefer having breakfast in France, brunch in the United States, lunch in France, tea time in England, appetizers in Spain, and dinner in Italy.
Why these choices? And why France twice? Well, breakfast in France because they have the best pastries, like pain au chocolat and croissants, or simply getting a fresh out of the oven and still warm baguette, eaten with either tea or coffee and sometimes a piece of fruit. But an important thing about meals in France is that you take your time. Sure, the morning rush does happen, but there is still a moment after first waking up, where having a nice hot bowl (yes bowl) of tea or hot chocolate really helps you embrace and get prepared to conquer a new day. I know you can find a similar morning routine in other countries, but for some reason, I really appreciate the way the French do it.
In my eyes, no country does brunch better than the United States. The mix of sweet and savory between 11am-2pm is just magical, my mouth is watering just writing about it. The last time I visited my family in the US was last Christmas. We went out to brunch at a new restaurant that served a warm and gooey brie cheese with a buttery mixture of apples, raisins, pecans, cinnamon, brown sugar on the side, served with toasted slices of baguette bread – it was a party in my mouth and I was in heaven!
Going back to France for lunch, we are given between 1-2 hours for the midday break to eat, do sports, sit and meditate on the beach (my case on sunny days) – basically we’re given the time to step away from our busy workday to enjoy a moment to have a good meal, talk to friends and colleagues and to unwind and de-stress a little before finishing the second half of our day.
Of course, the British are the champions of all that is tea time. Whether it’s having a “cuppa” during an afternoon break at work or going all out at a cafe or fancy hotel complete with a tiered tray of crustless sandwiches and delectable desserts like scones and fruit tarts, topped off with a nice glass of champagne, with a couple of raspberries floating in the bubbles if your lucky.
Moving on to Happy Hour menus, the best appetizers my taste buds have ever tried were tapas in Spain. This past summer, a group of us took a day trip to the coastal northwest of Spain in San Sebastian, the mission being to eat tapas. It is such an interesting concept to eat at the bar standing up, ordering each morsel you want at a time, selecting from an array of ingredients – fresh seafood to veggies and cheese to the famous Spanish omelette. Wash it all down with a classic Spanish white wine, throw your napkins and toothpicks on the floor for good measure and following tradition, all for an excellent price. Can’t get any better than that!
Can you tell I love food? Finally, I’ve chosen having dinner in Italy for its family-style servings. You order everything you want off the menu and the waiters bring each dish strategically one after the next, or at the same time, to enjoy together with the rest of your party. I love trying new foods, so this is the perfect combination for me, having time to share and discover new ingredients with your table that you maybe don’t usually order or would eat.
Whether the food was to your liking or not, you will always have those memories and photos with you to reminisce on and maybe even plan another trip back.
3.) Get Inspired Outside of your Comfort Zone: Why? Because it is a necessary and important experience everyone needs to have at least once in their lifetime. Being in a new place equals going out to explore and discover new things – things that you might not have ever imagined, perhaps they make you feel a tad uncomfortable, but that’s okay! Don’t be scared, I’m referring to non-life threatening situations. The feeling of being uncomfortable means to see something or try something for the first time.
For example, in my previous post Inspired by…Bikes and Wines I had ridden a bike before and had previously gone wine-tasting, but I had never done both at the same time until visiting Mendoza, Argentina. I had no idea what to expect and had a million of questions running through my mind, like “Where there be a marked path?” “How long will it take to get from one winery to another?””Will the tours be in English or Spanish?”, and the list goes on. It was all unknown to me, but I accepted it and reminded myself that it was all part of the new adventure.
When planning a trip to Venice this past February, I read a lot of travel reviews and blogs encouraging new travelers to the city to get lost within the city walls. This was the first time I heard of this sort of advice – go get lost – but it speaks a lot of truth. By turning left instead of right, going over the small bridge instead of the large, no one around, leaving you just with the sound of the blue lagoon’s water rippling up against the old Venetian buildings, flowing under the anchored resting boats.
With no specific planned already made, going out for a walk around your new surroundings is an excellent idea. Go find that local cafe you saw on the way to your hotel. Go walk in that park or forest you saw nearby. Go talk to a local and ask for suggestions on places to eat, visit, explore, not to miss. If you’re staying with a host family, ask questions away! They will be happy to help. In Buenos Aires, I lived with a family and if I ever had a question about where a certain place was, they would either show me on a map (or literally draw me one!), or walk with me to where I needed to go. I can remember asking to find the three different university buildings my classes were located, a bookstore and photocopy shop, the bank and laundromat.
If I can leave you with one piece of advice when traveling it would be to always remember to go off the beaten path. Get out there an explore!
4.) Learn a lot About Yourself & Being Independent: You definitely learn a lot about yourself during your travels, even if you consider yourself a seasoned traveler. My trip to Buenos Aires was my first solo trip and it was the first time I had to really do things by myself without any help from my family. Sure, I kept in touch with them, but if I had a problem all the way down in Argentina, a 14+ plane ride away, my family couldn’t really do much. They were able to send me money once because I had a problem with the monthly stipend I was supposed to get each month from my study abroad program, so that really helped.
This was also the first time going grocery shopping on my own and buying things I wasn’t sure about and what they tasted like, plus having to calculate everything in Argentine pesos ($1USD = 15.20 pesos currently) and budgeting my monthly expenses (subway tickets, laundry, food, etc.). As I said previously, I encountered a money problem in the middle of my trip. I was accidentally given 800 pesos for the first month when I was actually only supposed to receive 400, so you can imagine to my surprise that I was paid too much and ended up having to budget very well, especially this little piece of news was given to me shortly after booking a weekend away to Iguazu Falls with a friend.
On a lighter note, you can also find new hobbies and interests in your new surroundings that you never were interested in or thought about doing before. When I traveled to Cuzco, Peru for five weeks I loved walking around the town, sometimes to the same places that I loved going to, sometimes to new. I remember always setting some time aside to people watch, something I began doing in Argentina and I wanted to continue this newfound pastime in my future travels. It’s so intriguing to people watch, their mannerisms and daily activities becoming your main focus in a single point in time. It is also in these moments where you realize over and over again just how small the world actually is and how surprisingly similar people in another country are to yourself.
So, as you can see, during my first trip I had learned my first true life lessons, and even with all the ups and downs, I got my first glimpse and taste of the wonderful globetrotting serum called wanderlust.
5.) Experience Culture Shock: I believe that everyone should experience culture shock at least once. It’s a feeling you will never forget and once you return back home you will be appreciative for having this new discovery awareness.
Upon arrival in the new country you have chosen to explore, you get this realization of not really knowing what to expect, taking in all the differences you see around you and trying to work with the new language, adjusting to any jet lag and your new surroundings. I can remember this day very clearly.
Once landed, picking up my suitcase from the baggage claim and finding my way to to arrivals area, I ran into a couple of girls who looked like they were looking for the same person I was (yes, strange, but that’s how it happened), and they also appeared to be a little on edge like I was, as well. I asked them if they were studying abroad and waiting for someone name Fernando. They were waiting for the same person I was, so I decided to join them in the waiting game and we made small talk. After a little bit, another three students arrived at our group, having just landed themselves, and Fernando finally arrived.
We followed him to a large van, helped us with our bags, and we were on our way to the big city! He dropped each of us off to our respectful housing, some at a residencia, or dorm, others at separate host families. I was the third to be dropped off, calle Laredo was the street of my new home, where my host mom was already waiting outside for me. Once gathering all my things from the van, she gave me a big hug and a besito, or a little kiss on the right cheek (an Argentine norm) and took me inside to my new home for the next few months.
I can remember my first culture shock experience like it happened yesterday. It was about one month after arriving at my host family’s home and I was having a conversation with my host mom about starting my classes at the university. Then at one moment, I began to cry for some unknown reason. My host mom asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t explain it to her. It was a feeling of mixed emotions: finally getting to realize my dream of being abroad on my own, finally having my own freedom, yet missing some creature comforts of home. The instant passed by and I felt better after shedding a few tears. I never cried again until the day I had to return home.
And there you have it! 5 inspirational reasons to study abroad or just travel in general. I’d love to hear from you. What were your best moments during your very first trip to a different country? Any funny or memorable culture shock stories to share?
Go Get Inspired by…Quotes: “Au-delà des orages, je part en voyage, mon âme au vent, le coeur éléphant…je suis parti d’ici pour recontrer la vie, être vivante.” ~Song “Le coeur elephant” by French duo Fréro Delavega*
*Rough translation: “Beyond the storms, I’m leaving on a trip, my soul in the wind, with the heart of an elephant…I’m leaving here to meet life, to be alive.”
Disclaimer: ALL pictures are taken by myself and are not to be reproduced without my knowledge and permission.
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