People always say you should study abroad when you’re in college, and I would have to agree. Studying abroad with your college is an amazing experience. Earning college credit on the other side of the world can be one hell of a story if you make it one.
Deciding last-minute to apply for a study abroad program in Ghana was one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. It was the first time I traveled very far without anyone with me. And boy, was I unprepared.
I pretty much boarded a plane with nothing more than my passport and a yellow fever vaccination. I arrived at my hostel without sheets, a pillow, a mosquito net or malaria medication. I slept on a bare mattress using my sweater as a blanket and my textbooks as a pillow.
I had the most fun I ever had in my life.
Once I started to get everything figured out, I started living like a local. I crossed busy highways, never wore a seatbelt, talked to strangers and got lost more times than I could count. I felt a freedom I never had while living in the United States.
And I saw what people might call the Third World. I met people who lived in makeshift houses, people who didn’t have access to water and many, many people who made their living by selling plantain chips to passengers in cars on the roads.
It’s important to go and see how the rest of the world lives, so I would encourage everyone to experience a place without the same privilege as the United States. If you go to Europe, you are going to experience a different culture, but the privilege surrounding places in Europe is similar to America’s.
ASUN President Anthony Martinez recently studied abroad in Cuba over the winter semester. He said he was glad he was able to experience a more developing country while he was still young.
“I think students can learn a lot from these countries,” Martinez said. “What I’ve realized is that I would not come [to Cuba] when I’m older because it would be a lot more difficult for me to travel. When I think about Spain, it’s a lot more developed. I was super happy that I went because it just opened my eyes to other countries. I think that’s also an important thing to keep in mind because that’s what you should do is explore places that you might not be able to do when you’re older.”
This is not to say that students would not have an absolutely wonderful time in Europe, but it is much more culturally significant to visit places that are drastically different from the way they live currently. Students’ worldview can change exceptionally quickly when they are exposed to a different cultural system in a place they rest of the world may be insensitive to.
I encourage those who seek to develop their understanding of the world to go to less privileged countries and understand why there might be such a divide between countries. And you might even find out that people are not so different around the world.
Sarah Strang can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @scsstrang.