Grace Lower | Nov 22, 2017
So, you’ve made the decision to study abroad! You’re probably feeling deliriously excited and a little nervous, too. That’s all normal. In the months leading to your trip, you’ll be bombarded with dense itineraries, scary-looking legal documents, and frantic requests from your academic advisor. But even more pervasive are the cliché bits of travel wisdom you’ll be reading in blogs and hearing from friends.
Study abroad clichés are ubiquitous. Whether you’re scrolling through Pinterest for the perfect packing list, or reading your university’s international affairs page, you’re bound to find a feel-good quote or two about how wonderful travel can be. Studying abroad is undoubtedly a life-changing experience, but some of the wisdom surrounding it can be misleading (if not downright ridiculous).
When you combine empty motivational sentiments with your decision to study abroad, you might undermine some of the elements of travel that make it so life-changing. Here’s the kind of study abroad advice that you should not be listening to.
This little quote is frequently slapped on tote bags, scrawled across high-res photographs, and peppered across social media pages. The sentiment is lovely, but upon a closer look, it’s simply not true. Booking a flight to Paris or spending a semester in Japan is not going to magically make you a better person. The richness that comes with travel stems from a conscious desire to learn and connect with others.
To truly become “richer” during your time abroad, you’ll want to make sure you respectfully engage with your host community. Rather than sticking with other Americans, find ways to authentically connect with locals. Buy someone a drink at a bar, make small talk with your cashier. Learn about their beliefs and attitudes, and feel free to share your own. And while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself a little. Without the willingness to learn something new, travel won’t necessarily make you richer—and your money might be better spent on a good book.
Ugh. As a goal-oriented person, this quote is especially egregious to me. Yes, you can certainly go into travel without purpose or reason, but if you really want to benefit from your time abroad, it helps to have goals.
Before you depart, think about what you hope to gain from your time abroad. Do you want to sharpen your foreign language skills? Become a more confident navigator? See more of the world? No matter how broad or how specific your purpose may be, if you spend your time abroad intentionally working toward it, you’ll end your journey with more than just souvenirs.
Not only is this quote a little elitist, it’s simply not correct. It takes incredible courage to travel, but without a solid financial plan, you’re not going anywhere.
If you’re a student traveler, you need to think carefully and critically about how you will afford your trip. Scholarships are always a good option to pursue, but they can often be competitive. When I prepared for my own trip, I worked extra hours at my on-campus job and spent the holidays picking up shifts at a restaurant. Studying abroad might take courage, but affording it takes some serious hustle, too.
Studying abroad—and travel in general—is an incredible privilege. Thinking less of people who do not, or cannot, travel isn’t a good look. For starters, there are so many rich experiences in life that don’t involve travel. From raising a family to starting a business, every major decision brings with it a wealth of knowledge. Beyond that, there are plenty of resources available for people to learn about the world without ever leaving their living room. Documentaries, books, and blogs can make many of travel’s lessons accessible to those who can’t or won’t go on a trip. Travel is often life-changing—but to position it as the ultimate teacher is to oversimplify others’ experiences.
I used to be a huge believer in this idea, until I looked around my room one day and realized that, despite the amount of travel I’d done, the majority of my belongings were from Target and T.J. Maxx. Now when I take long-term trips, I try to find one piece of clothing or home decor to bring back with me. To look around my apartment and see pieces that tie back to my travel memories brings be so much joy. And while I’m always glad I spent my money on the experience, there’s something to be said about the things, too.
It’s easy to think of travel as this life-changing experience that can open minds and break barriers. But the truth is, there are plenty of people who have traveled extensively and have gained nothing. As a student traveler, you have to be willing to put in the work to overcome your own biases and assumptions. Ultimately, it’s not travel that creates personal growth—it’s the traveler’s willingness to be changed.
While these clichés are out-of-touch, you should never discount studying abroad with a student travel health insurance plan. Traveling internationally is an incredible opportunity, and we want your experience abroad to be as safe and memorable
as possible. Explore our comprehensive international student travel insurance options today.
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Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.
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