Best Learned Lessons from Being Abroad

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I talked a bit about appreciating my American identity while being abroad, but now that we are down to the very last wire, I wanted to share some of the other lessons that I've taken away from this trip. Here it goes:

Flexibility with earnest effort will take you a long way. Even when I thought something would be easy (such as taking a yoga class), it turned out to require a lot more than I was willing to work with. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to get the things that you want done. As much as I'm a fan of go-with-the-flow, the "earnest effort" part of this lesson means that I voice my needs and get at least some of them met.

I wish I could say that I lived up to the idea of processing later, living now, but that would be a lie. It's something that I thought about a lot on this trip - ironically - because as much as I wanted to live in the moment, I had a ton of thoughts going through my head whenever we stepped outside. Instead, the best time for my "living in the moment" was through writing fiction and non-fiction.

Submit to the stages of being abroad. I hit a really long and sluggish plateau in the middle of my trip. At first I was really eager to take it all in, which is another thing that I highly recommend (not that more is better, but accepting and experiencing openly surely is), but by the middle that idea had faded away. I was cooped up, homesick, and feeling like there were too many issues going on for me to really enjoy the time. However, after a certain point, things started to resolve themselves. I'm not saying that you shouldn't actively try to make yourself feel better in that situation, but I think that with a long enough time abroad, there's bound to be some stages of emotions that are unpleasant amidst all the "wow!" Sometimes you just need to ride them out and see where it leaves you.

Learn about your context. This can be before you actually leave for the trip, and it sure helped me to take a class on Bengal before coming here, but I think that it solidifies when you are actually spending time abroad. To be cliche: it is life-changing.

Finally, take your big goals and give them practical methods. While here, I've been working on a good deal of writing amidst the research and all the experiential learning, but those big goals were sought because I had the ability to spend a good chunk of the day inside (due to the heat and access to transportation). Otherwise, I would have needed to re-prioritize and figure out a different plan of action.

All in all, being abroad has been a very exciting and high/low journey in and of itself. I'm still processing, and will be for some time to come, but this is what I've come away with for now. I hope that others will share their own stories of what it's like to be away from the familiar. I'm eager to hear it!