Studying abroad is a privilege not everyone could experience. Not only it will provide you with a prestigious degree, but It will also provide you with a myriad of memories that will last forever.
On top of that, the study abroad experience will give you the opportunity to meet many types of people, with perspectives and life experiences that are completely alien to you.
As I write this, it’s been almost 8 years since I packed my bag and moved halfway across the globe, from Indonesia to Italy, to continue my study, and brought my family with me. We’ve been here ever since and I’ve managed to fulfill my lifelong dreams of studying and working abroad
The time that’s gone by so far has been a total whirlwind. When I came, I was a mom of a pre-schooler and now I’m a mom of a teenager.
Many things happened, some I remember vaguely, some vividly. Between attending classes and taking care of my little family, exploring the city, and enjoying as much pasta and gelato as I could, the days have been flying so fast.
Each of those experiences shaped me into the person that I am today. Living abroad has toughened me, it given me a chance to grow a thick skin, and required me to think quickly on my feet since plenty of things didn’t go as planned and I had to improvise and develop grit and tenacity.
I owed those transformations to the rainbows of people I met throughout the years. When you study abroad, you might have a completely different experience than mine, for sure.
But in general, these are the types of people you would most likely meet during your time studying and living abroad, which in one way or another, and in their own unique ways, will enrich your life.
And here they are :
1. People From Different Cultures
I know I stated the obvious here, but you’ll never know a culture shock until you experience it yourself. Although you don’t necessarily need to be overseas to experience culture shock, the shock will hit you harder overseas compared to just moving to another city in your own country.
For example, I’m an Asian from Indonesia. In my culture, people are quite reserved when it comes to having physical contact with others, let alone strangers. But we have no qualms about asking total strangers about a very private matter such as: are they married or not and why not? Completely noisy, I know…
In Italy, and perhaps in many other countries as well, it is completely the opposite. When people consider you as an acquaintance, they will greet you with a kiss.
But on the other hand, even if you are besties, there are still lines you can’t cross when it comes to interacting with them, as in you couldn’t just ask them whatever you want.
If they have a problem or something, it will be best if you wait until they tell you themselves instead of asking questions, or making any comments.
As for me, since I worked with foreigners before, back in my home country, I knew well not to pry or ask questions, but sometimes I let it slip once in a while and got the “ did you just seriously ask me that?” kind of look.
Also, It took quite some time to get used to the hugs and kisses, especially from the opposite sex, but now I got used to it. Well, when in Rome, do as the roman do, right?
What to do: Adjust as soon as you could. It will be hard but you have to do your best to try. It shows that you respect them, their customs, habits, and culture.
Wherever you are, if you are a guest, don’t come and think that you are superior to the locals, like some dumb tourists thinking that they come from a rich country and therefore they can do whatever they want in their host country.
And it applies to the local people, but also to your classmates and friends you make along the way. When you study abroad, most likely you will enroll in an international program. Thus, your classmates might come from a totally different place and culture from you.
The things that are completely normal for you might be offensive to them, and vice versa. Don’t deliberately offend people simply because “it’s completely ok back where we came from”. Shows some compassion and maturity.
2. People of Different Ages and Phases of Life
Living abroad could be lonely. As international students – even though we are busy with our studies – we missed our family and friends. When we miss someone, we tend to “see” them everywhere.
Some people will remind you of your mother and father, The nice old lady next door somehow reminds you of your grandmother. You would miss your brother and sister a lot, even though, normally, you used to find them annoying.
Therefore, don’t be surprised if you start to develop a friendship with people that you wouldn’t even consider talking to back home.
For example, the story about your host country’s history from your elderly neighbors fascinates you. You look forward to meeting the neighbor’s kids and sharing some sweets your parents just shipped you from home. You chatted with the lady waitress from the nearest café every morning as you grab a quick bite before you go to school…
Before you know it, you have made acquittances, even friendships with people of different ages and different phases of life. You learn a thing or two about them and from them, and vice versa. Either way, you’ll gain experiences that will enrich your life.
3. People From Different Social and Economic Backgrounds
Growing up, most of us had friends from the same social and economic status. We went to schools in our neighborhood with the neighbor’s kids, whether it was in a middle-upper-class neighborhood in the suburbs, the classy neighborhood in the best and most expensive part of the town, in the slum area of the big city, or so on…
Although a university is a different place and you could have peers from different levels of social-economic backgrounds, in many countries, students from private and prestigious universities usually come from a middle to the upper-class background, with some exceptions of students from middle to lower backgrounds who win scholarships.
But in European countries where higher education levels with excellent quality are almost free for everyone, people came from completely different social-economic backgrounds. You could have friends from the very poor until the very rich background.
Each and every one of them brings their own unique personality traits, shaped by their upbringing. Respect your differences and learn from each other as much as you could.
Me, growing up in a relatively poor country, I count every penny I spent. From my friends, I learned that I need to loosen up a little bit, stop being too stingy with myself and reward myself every now and then when I felt like I’ve accomplished something. While from me, they learned how to keep their weekly groceries for under 20 euros per week, for example.
4. People From Different Religions / Spiritual Levels
Studying abroad gives you an opportunity like no other. One of the rare experiences you could get is meeting people from different religions or spiritual levels.
Now, I know that many of us come from quite plural places where people from different religions live in harmony, but do you interact closely with them as in being friends and do plenty of things together, or just politely nod and acknowledge each other when you bump into them in the neighborhood?
Perhaps both, but when you study abroad, chances are you will have to work together on a group project, for example, with someone from a different religion. You’ll get to know them and learn to trust them, and perhaps eventually, develop a strong bond with them.
I must say it’s not like someone will be asking blatantly “what is your religion?”. Nobody cares anyway as it is a private matter. But if you can’t come to a group meeting/ work because you have to attend Sunday mass or Friday prayer, people will notice anyway.
So, a deeply religious person might interact with an atheist person, and find out that they like each other and respect each other’s preferences towards religion.
Another example, is perhaps a person has certain prejudice towards a particular religion, but after studying abroad and meeting someone who practices that said religion, which turns out to be totally different from what’s been portrayed by the media, they might have different opinions now.
5. People With Different Life Experiences
Life experiences could be anything, from good to bad. From great to totally awful. There’s a big chance you would meet these kinds of people with very diverse life experiences.
Your friend might look dazed and confused all the time because this is his or her first time away from home, all by themselves. They are used to having people jump in and helped whenever they need it. So their confusion over something trivial or survival skills 101 baffled you.
Or you might have a friend that seems paranoid. Never leave anything unattended, and never been outside after dark, because where they came from, crime rates are high and they are used to being extra vigilant.
When you meet people from a completely different world than you, you’ll hone your skills in feeling empathy towards other people. You’ll develop compassion and understanding, and more importantly, you won’t be so quick to judge without looking deeper, because you understood well, that there are good reasons behind it, shaped by the person’s frame of reference.
6. People With Different Ways of Expressing Themselves
Working with people from different cultures is not easy, considering that we have different ways of expressing ourselves. According to David A. Livermore, in his book “Leading With Cultural Intelligence”, the key to taking your business globally, and doing so effectively, is your CQ or cultural intelligence.
After your study abroad, there’ll be a good chance you will continue on to work abroad, therefore, having cultural intelligence is a must.
In my experience, I know that coming from Asia, I might be a little bit reserved. I didn’t say that all Asians are like that, but where I came from, people tend to be timid and reserved in business and other formal settings, trying to “hide” themselves and be “invisible”.
So, in time, throughout my study, I learned that I need to be more assertive and voiced myself and my opinions stronger, and held my ground harder for something I believed in.
I learned that being loud and boisterous is not always bad, as long as you stay polite and have something useful to say to the forum. I also learned how to balance them, to know when to hold back or when to be more opinionated.
The experience might be completely different for you, but the point is, meeting people with different ways of expressing themselves will make you reflect on yourself.
You’ll see how others perceived you and it’ll help you decide whether it is something you want (or need) to change to be a better you, or not. More importantly, you’ll have a better understanding of yourself and others who are completely different than you.
7. People From Different Challenges and Goals.
Studying abroad also enables you to respect other people’s challenges and goals. My younger peers understood that as a student mom, I couldn’t just stay up all night working on our projects, instead, they let me stay as much as I could and send my finished work later.
On the other hand, I completely understood why a friend looked like a mess after a bad breakup. As someone who’s been married for more than five years at that moment, I could’ve just rolled my eyes and said “this too shall pass” or something like that.
Instead, I tried to understand because what seems to be something completely meaningless to me could mean everything to someone else.
Also, they might have completely different goals than you. Just because I’m an adult student and a student mom who worked my ass off to pursue my dream of studying abroad, it doesn’t mean that I could look down on my friends who were more interested in partying.
They had different goals and it was fine. In the end, we all live our life how we want them and whatever it is, we need to respect each other’s decisions.
Over to You…
The people you meet during your study abroad are more than just someone who likes to party, some nerd who always studies, the traveler, and so on. Honestly, you could find those types anywhere, even if you continue your study in your home town.
There is more to see in them. Try harder to see behind the party animal or the nerd, because when you are an international student, those nerds, and party animals are most likely coming from other countries, and have completely different upbringings than you, thus, you’ll have the chance to see life in different perspectives than your own.
Not only that, but they also might be significantly older or younger and in a different stage of life than you. They might also come from very different social-economic backgrounds, different religions or spiritual levels, different life experiences, different ways to express themselves, and have different challenges and goals from you.
The Institute for International Education of Students (IES) conducted a survey to explore the long-term impact of study abroad on the personal, professional, and academic lives of students, and according to the survey, 95% said it had a lasting impact on their worldview.
98% of the students stated that studying abroad helped them better understand their own cultural values and biases, and 82% said that it helped them develop a more sophisticated way of looking at the world. 94% stated that their study abroad experience continues to influence interactions with people from different cultures.
So, if you have been fortunate enough to be an international student, maximize this rare and precious opportunity as much as you can. Make friends with people who are completely different than you. Embrace them and their quirkiness, embrace the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Learn from them, learn from the mistakes you make, and observe everything. Make mental notes of what’s important, because someday, these skills will be useful for you and your future career, and you will look back to those years you spent abroad with big smiles on your face
That’s it for now, thanks for reading!!! Hope your study abroad experience will be livelier than mine…or did you go already?
How was it? What kind of people have you met and made friends with? write your comment down below and let’s share some stories. Do you know someone who’s been wanting to study abroad? Share this post on your social media, who knows it can be useful for them.
Thanks so much and till next time!!!