The sky was dark, the land fell behind us and all that protected me from an expanse of cold colorless night was the plane window, slowly frosting over in the frigid atmosphere. Thousands of miles from home, suspended in the air somewhere between Greenland and Iceland, it dawned on me that there would be no going back. I had never left Eastern North America and here I was, on my way to a semester in Europe, soon to be studying in a language I hardly spoke, living with a family I had never met.
Early in the morning, I arrived in France to meet: my hosts, a new culture and an older world. Most days, I greeted the experience as magical, something new to see or learn at every curve; dancing in the rain on the way to class. On other days I hid my fear of failure, disguised as shyness, an insecure second language learner in or foreign land. But through these highs and lows, my brave step away from home into France was certainly worth the experience.
My five months in Europe taught me:
- Independence – I would visit many national capitols and Olympic cities with exhilaration instead of fear
- Awareness – as the Americans traveling through my host city took up more space and made more noise than would ever be necessary, I became quieter and more culturally conscious
- And awakened my adventurous spirit – since then I have chartered my own course across continents and traveled solo to cities I had never even heard of as a child.
I now advise everyone I know to pursue global education. From my own experience, here a few pieces of advice for students preparing to study abroad:
1. Observe then act – what is appropriate, culturally-aware behavior in your host country?
2. Learn the history of a place before you visit – what recent conflicts or significant historical moments shaped this culture (fun fact: where did the word defenestration originate)?
3. Experiment with foods (if offered from trusted source) – I experienced pungent cheeses, rose wine and rabbit in France. What will you dare to try?
4. Just say no – many strangers are seeking to take your money or take advantage of your inexperience, you’re often safest walking away.
5. Respect your limits – give yourself time to adjust to the time-zone, respect the requests and customs your host family, don’t drink foolishly, be street smart, don’t break the law, etc.
Be confident, but not rude.
Ruth T. is the Marketing and Programs Coordinator for Gordon College’s Global Education Office. As an undergraduate student at Gordon she completed her French Minor in Aix-en-Provence, France. #gordonglobal