This post is the first in a “5 Things I Learned in __________” series, written by our returning students.
Geoff ZuHone is a senior Journalism major who has studied abroad twice: once on a short term faculty-led program in France and a second time at the University of Westminster in London, England. He is also a member of the inaugural class of STA4000G: Study Abroad Capstone.
5 Things I learned in…London
I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it; the American way isn’t always the best. Just knowing that there are alternatives to how you live inspires reflection in other parts of your life. Studying abroad forces you (in an amicable way) to confront certain aspects of your life that might seem archaic or backwards. Now, I’m more likely to buy fresher food for a couple days, going back to the store 2 or 3 times a week rather than buying frozen or convenient food in bulk. Before studying abroad, I would always assume that I would drive everywhere I needed to go, but now I look for reliable public or mass transit options before setting out. It’s refreshing to know that seemingly unimportant aspects of your life can change just by visiting or living someplace different.
Studying abroad by yourself is tough and intimidating, but it’s rewarding beyond belief. Starting from scratch is rejuvenating, and it knowingly preludes the “real world.” I’m terribly glad to have been able to set new, shallow roots in London that will one day grow into a firm network of friends and colleagues. I implore anyone that will be studying abroad in a foreign country, do not only hang out with the other American kids only; find the locals, get to know them, and you will learn more useful information about a city, about a country, than there is in most travel manuals.
This is the most important trait I acquired from studying abroad. Being in Europe, it’s customary to travel to close countries for long weekends away. After an hour of researching, I am proud to say I can book lodging and transportation to a foreign country for four people, all while finding popular and unique activities to fill three days with. These transferable skills have already allowed me to book a weekend in Canada during the middle of this school year, along with finding and renting out a New York apartment in less than 3 hours this past summer. Having the confidence to be spontaneous has allowed myself to become less reactive and more proactive. Now if only I could stop myself from researching flights to Paris around Christmas time.
Growing up in the Midwest on a corn and soybean farm, I always thought of trains mostly as a means of transporting grain and oil. Now, having comeback from modernity, I see trains not only as the future of travel, but as the past and present of travel. Trains have been constant, especially in Europe, for nearly 200 years. Modern trains can easily cut the travel time in half compared to driving a car. It’s also much easier and less stressful than flying; showing up 10 or 15 minutes before the train departs is wonderful compared to showing up hours ahead of time to an airport terminal. Best of all, there’s hardly any security to go through, so there’s no liquid restrictions, body X-rays, or long-lines. It’s the most convenient, most enjoyable, and most fun way of traveling I have ever experienced.
Do, Don’t Just Watch
Culture just isn’t in the museums or around the monuments. Culture is an experience. The more you immerse yourself and get lost in a culture, the more you retain from it, the more learn from it, and the more you grow from it. This is one of the most valuable and priceless effects of studying abroad. There is always something new you can learn from another culture, whether it be a different way to eat, a different way to earn money, or a different way to dress. Every change to your personality, no matter how small or imperceptible, is a willful absorption and emission of a different culture; that, is beautiful.