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Why Study Abroad Was Essential to My Learning

by Hayley Pugh
Why Study Abroad Was Essential to My Learning as a College Student | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Salamanca, Spain

At home, I’m an English major getting certified to teach. In my education classes, we talk a lot about the different learning styles that exist among people. If you don’t know what that is, it means that some people learn best by listening, some by writing, some by images, and some by hands-on experiences. Study abroad has been a crucial factor in my development as a person because it’s given me a chance to learn through hands-on experience, and I have discovered so much.

There have been the smaller lessons, like how to navigate through public transportation in other countries, how to plan and execute an entire trip by myself, how to make decisions for myself without calling my parents or friends because it’s 3 AM at home and no one would be awake anyway. I’ve learned to be responsible and take care of myself, to be determined to get things done even when I don’t want to, to actually manage my money. But there have been big lessons, too — ones that would’ve been impossible to comprehend without this choice to study abroad.

I need the hands-on approach because there are a lot of things that I logically knew at home but didn’t truly understand until now. For instance, I always heard that the United States is a relatively young country without much tradition or history, but I didn’t understand the significance of that until I traveled to different countries and saw an aqueduct built in the first century A.D., or walked across a bridge built in 1218, or attended a college that’s celebrating its 800th anniversary. I’ve seen traditions, culture, and history in six different European countries so far and plan to go to several more. Now, I understand what people mean when they say the U.S. is a young country, that we don’t have many traditions, and I’m able to appreciate it for what it is just as I now can with these European countries.

I have realized that I want to study ESL when I get back because I see the relevance and fun of teaching it now. While I knew it was important before, I still didn’t grasp the weight of how important and special it actually is. And side note: for anyone who wants to be a teacher, international study is a great option because it provides new perspectives and methods for teaching that aren’t taught at home, which can also help you connect and empathize with more students. Win-win!

I have learned that we are never really alone—there are so many people in the world with different thoughts, perspectives, and ways of living. No matter how isolated we might feel sometimes in our own thoughts or beliefs, the world is huge and there are always people out there to identify with and relate to. Plus, it’s really fun to get to know them.

Finally, I have learned that we have to live fully every day of our lives. In a study abroad mindset, we learn that our days are numbered and precious, that we must make the most of our time because there is so little of it. We learn to make our dreams happen because we’re in another country and if not now, then when? We learn not to waste our time wishing we are somewhere else, but to enjoy what we have. This is true for all of us, no matter where we are in the world or what we’re doing with our lives.

International study simply helped me understand what that feels like and how to live the way I wanted to before I came here. It gave me the opportunity to learn all of these things and so much more by being a hands-on, real life experience that couldn’t have been replicated in a better way. It’s given me memories, and it’s given me life-long lessons.

This post was contributed by Hayley Pugh, who is spending her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.

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