Easily, the single experience that changed my life in the most dramatic way, was my semester studying abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. Before my exchange, I was headed on a completely different trajectory, and to be honest, I don’t think it was for the best. Before making the decision to study abroad, I was quite unhappy with my university life and I often played with the idea of becoming a college dropout like Kanye.
During my freshman and sophomore years (years 1 and 2 of university), I almost always stayed in my comfort zone and there wasn’t that much room for substantial personal-growth. Towards the end of my second year of university, I learned about the possibility of studying in a foreign country and jumped at the opportunity to escape!
One semester in Thailand opened my eyes to the world, from then on, my life completely changed. My days of introversion were over and I gained loads of confidence by realizing that stepping out of my comfort zone was the best way to develop myself.
With such a positive life change I’ve become a huge advocate for studying abroad and living in foreign countries. After my first semester abroad, I returned to the United States to finish my bachelor’s degree. Once my university education was complete, I lived in several other countries, seeing lots of personal development each time. It is now my way of life, starting from nothing and building my life in a new places, all while constantly learning along the way.
Since you’re reading this, you must be interested in the chance of studying abroad too. Hopefully, the reasons I’ve outlined here will encourage you to give studying abroad (or living abroad) a chance so you can too realize all of the immense benefits I have, and possibly more!
Go on and trust Pierre.
Reason 1: Become Independent and Confident
The cultural differences between the United States and Thailand are quite immense, obviously. This meant that practically every activity I partook in was something I hadn’t done before, pushing me out of my comfort zone constantly. I had no choice but to quickly adapt, and gain confidence if I wanted to get anything done.
Whether it was attempting to communicate with people that didn’t speak English, networking with foreign students from every stretch of the world or traveling around Southeast Asia for the first time, I was forced to become confident, secure with myself and independent. This cut away all of the social anxiety I had before and turned me from an introvert to an extrovert!
From this, you might be able to put together that we have more opportunity to grow if we are as far out of our comfort zones as possible, at least for building confidence. This is why I highly recommend choosing a study abroad program in a country that is completely different then what you’re familiar with, this will insure the most drastic improvements!
Reason 2: Break Long-Time Habits and Ways of Thinking
No matter where you are in the world, people tend to develop deeply rooted habits from doing the same things, in the same ways, over long periods of time. It’s hard to see different ways of thinking, and easy to miss opportunities when we’re stuck going down a single road.
There is no better way to hit the reset button and open your eyes to what is possible in life than to take a break, and spend an extended period in a foreign country. Pulling ourselves out of our normal lives will force us to have no choice but to see the world in a new way. Hitting the reset button helps us to see the big picture, and allow for a change of direction, if needed.
Reason 3: Gain a More Complete Worldview
Living the day to day grind makes many of us lose sight of the nearly 200 countries that exist in the world. When I studied in Thailand for a semester, I gained a whole new understanding of the way that the world works, outside of the United States. Ever since I was young, I was always told that the US was number one, in everything. Since I didn’t know any different, I sort of just accepted it. The more I traveled the more I realized that in many ways it’s not true. Living abroad and traveling have helped me to see where we all sit on the world stage.
As you travel, I’d recommend pretending you are a reporter, digging a bit deeper into the beliefs of people you encounter to gain more knowledge, seeking to understand, soaking it all up like a sponge. Listening to the stories of people that have diverse backgrounds has proven time and time again a great way to expand my thinking. Seek out knowledge wherever you can find it, it will only make you a better person.
Reason 4: Expand Your Palate
Growing up in the United States I was exposed to many foreign cultures. However, even in the big cities, a lot of the food has become “Americanized”. This happens all over the world, foods are adapted to the preferences of the locals.
Living in Bangkok I was able to try tons of new foods I had never had before. This is always one of my favorite things to do, and a major driving force in my world exploration. I learned what Thai food really tastes like, not just the Americanized version. For myself, I was happy to discover a cuisine that fit my preferences perfectly! I love bold flavors.
Reason 5: Gain Patience
When I was young I was incredibly impatient, always expecting things on my terms. The more I have lived abroad, the more patience I have gained. If we are forced to live on the terms of others, we have no choice but to become a bit more patient (or have a mental breakdown.)
The takeaway is that even though we are not always in control of a situation, we are in control of our response to it. This taught me that I have complete control of my inner peace and allowed me to become more self-aware in stressful situations, enabling me to relax. We always have the choice to slow down and enjoy the moment. I still haven’t become the most patient person in the world, but I have made major strides forward and it all began from studying abroad.
Reason 6: Gain Worldwide Connections
The friends that I made during my exchange semester in Bangkok, Thailand are still some of my best friends nearly 10 years on. Many of us have spread out around the world, but these are the types of friends that no matter how much time passes by, our bonds stay incredibly strong.
Sharing such a life-changing experience with a group of people forms a bond that is hard as steel!
These connections have led me on countless new adventures and opened up a world of opportunities socially and for business. Go make friends while studying abroad!
Reason 7: Expand Your Thinking with Language
Nowadays, with the prevalence of the English language, it is practically never required to learn foreign languages to live abroad. However, time and time again, in my life, and in scientific studies, it has been proven that learning a language only benefits us.
Learning new languages helps us to expand our cultural understanding, and opens up new opportunities by communicating more effectively with people. Whether it’s being able to participate in basic interactions that put a smile on someone’s face, or being able to understand someone more deeply in a 1-on-1 conversation, we only have benefits to gain from language learning.
Also, learning languages has been proven to make us smarter and teaches us strategies for learning more efficiently in general. For example, from learning the Thai language, I have developed strategies to learn languages faster in general which has helped me immensely in my life.
Reason 8: Learn Your Life Priorities
Through intense life experiences, we are forced to learn a lot about ourselves, maybe too much. I have learned how to more easily identify activities I like and activities I don’t like. This has helped me to narrow my focus in life, making it easier to attain my goals. That way, we don’t spend our precious time alive doing things that aren’t our main priorities.
I could probably write an entire book on all of the benefits I have realized from my semester of studying abroad in Bangkok (which I might have to do), but these are the most obvious. I have gained so much from this experience and that is why I so highly recommend that everyone study abroad, or simply live abroad for 4-6 months, at some point in their lives. Self-growth is waiting and you can thank me later!