I’ve heard it said time and again. Study abroad is a reprieve from real life, six months of pure vacation. School is easy… too easy. Grades don’t even count. All you need to do is find a way to pass. The good life, right?
The weather is gorgeous. The women are beautiful. The nightlife is plentiful. Who needs to show up to class? This is generally the romanticized version of the study abroad experience.
Well… get real. Studying abroad is no summer holiday. Don’t get me wrong, it is meant to be the time of your life. But if you have an ounce of free time, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t experience some form of culture shock, you’re doing it wrong. If you aren’t challenged by classes or research or language acquisition in a foreign environment, you’re doing it wrong.
Now, I’m never one to endorse unnecessary stress. While traveling for travel’s sake or running from one exotic destination to another just for a visa stamp and bragging rights is not the way to go, neither is working too hard on something as trivial as schoolwork when there are so many more adventures to be had. There is certainly a balance between really engaging with one’s surroundings–immersing oneself in the customs and the people–versus moving from one place to another in a sampling of buffet-style cultures.
But the time spent abroad is said by all veterans to be full of the memories most often cherished in the college career. These are the character-defining experiences that become the basis for so many memorable stories. These might not be the kind of stories you’ll be keen to tell the grandchildren one day, but they will be ones that last a lifetime nonetheless.
So go out, enjoy that beach, work on that tan, party like it’s 1999. But also travel with a passion, learn a new language and establish friendships that will last far longer than the semester abroad. There is no time to waste. For my part, at the end of this “vacation” I’m going to be in need of one helluva vacation.