ISEP student Walker, an economics major from Kennesaw State University who spent a year at Johannes Kepler Universität Linz in Austria, takes a step back and looks at his study abroad experience as a whole. Did it change his life?
“How has study abroad changed your life?” It seems a straightforward enough question. I can talk about how I learned to handle the unexpected, how I coped with living on my own, reminisce about the wonderful people I met, wistfully remember how unconstrained my life felt. However, words won’t do it justice. Summarizing a study abroad experience into a few short sentences is like trying to define love; by its very nature, it cannot be constrained.
If you’ve never experienced studying abroad, this might sound like an exaggeration of the strangest sort. I can’t blame you. Until I studied abroad, the entire concept just seemed like an excuse to vacation in the guise of studying. In some programs and some cases, that’s certainly the case. For the rest of us, study abroad is not just an experience or a trip. It’s our entire lives being uprooted and placed down in an entirely unfamiliar country, where we may not even speak the language.
There are a lot of things we take for granted in our everyday lives. I don’t mean that in the purely economic sense; where we live in a land of plenty and others live in destitution and poverty. It’s things we don’t think about. When you move abroad, these things you never even gave the most cursory of thought to can suddenly be huge problems.
But that’s what studying abroad is all about. That’s what it’s like to move somewhere new. Some have described it as stepping outside your comfort zone; I’d liken it more to being catapulted out of it. My study abroad was a year-long exchange in Austria. I had to learn how to create an entirely new social group among a group of people that I didn’t have all that much (initially) in common with, besides being students. There was no Walmart to go to and each grocery store only carried certain types of foods. Government offices and businesses had the strangest hours imaginable. Not having a car was also a strange experience, as I learned to navigate the public transportation network. Initially, I didn’t speak a word of German, but over time I grew to not only understand it, but to enjoy it.
To answer the question, yes, my perspective has changed, on life, of the world, of my home and of everything in my life. However, I have no hope of succinctly explaining exactly how my life has changed.
I can say without any shred of doubt that going on a study abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. A year has passed since I studied abroad and I continue to glean new lessons from my time spent abroad. If you ever want the full story of what it’s like to study abroad, find someone who has and sit down with them for a few hours. You might just get the beginning of a glimpse of how monumental it can be.
Thanks for the insight, Walker! If you think Johannes Kepler Universität Linz might be the study abroad spot for you, you can find more information on the ISEP website. It’s a great place to take classes in English — but if you want to step it up and take classes in your selected field of study in German, you can do that too — and live like a local.
An earlier version of this post was originally shared March 26, 2014.