My decision to study abroad has forever changed me. I am a better version of myself, and I have gained the confidence that I so desperately needed. Before I left the United States, I was afraid of people and making mistakes. The past me would often avoid engaging in university activities, my course curriculum, and even with some of my peers in a fear of not being “perfect”. I never wanted to make mistakes in my social and professional life. My past self was just a simple girl who was afraid of being human and being bold. Being in this new, unfamiliar world, elicited the needed, positive change in myself. Traveling to Copenhagen, Denmark—regardless of the circumstances that ended my trip prematurely—propelled me on a journey of self-discovery.
From my observations, Danes aspire to live a happy, fulfilled life. The only way to achieve that is to pursue their goals and not sweat the small stuff. They have a long-term outlook. Yes, there will be mistakes made along the way, but in the grand scheme, these small mistakes are minimal when overlooking the entirety of their objective. They work towards contributing to their trusted community. Having a learning style of group work, there was never the intensified pressure of work-isolation. There was a constant encouragement of discussion and collaboration. Working with others decreased my internal pressure to overwork myself; I had time to enjoy what I was learning and reflect on my career objectives. What I found most intriguing was the informality of work environments and the casual nature of learning. I referred to all my professors and corresponding staff by their first name. The removal of formal titles from my interactions with the program acted as a switch to how I viewed my experience. Instead of being overly formal, I was able to relax and speak freely to my professors and staff members. I realized that they were human, and the questions or small mistakes I might make were completely normal, and I could approach them when I needed to. Being on a first-name basis allowed me to not be afraid of being inquisitive and being wrong.
In my history, I excelled in academics. While in Denmark, I continued that trend, yet despite that history of academic prestige, I lacked leadership experience. I felt that I would never be a good leader, so I never attempted to become one. I always desired to continue my feelings of being comfortable. While in my program, I gained leadership experience by joining the Student Representative Council. The combination of informality and the prevalence of group work encouraged me to be uncomfortable and engage in my community. For the first six weeks in my study abroad location, I played the role of Chair. I engaged with my fellow students by participating in the quorum and discussing my experience abroad and embracing the culture around me. I created student activities and engaged with my friends around the world— which is something I would have never done before. For the following four weeks, I engaged again with the Student Representative Council, but this time, I acted as Secretary. Before the abrupt end, I gained a level of professional communication skills that a semester prior I would have not had. Learning by teachers who were not native English speakers required patience and kindness. By befriending students and faculty from various countries in the world, I experienced an increased cultural awareness. In order to effectively communicate, I could not mumble and be vague in my language. Communicating required specificity and clarifying unclear language. Moreover, there was a unspoken expectation for me to ask questions. Because of my future career in business, these imperative skills will aid in propelling me forward with my new, improved communication skills.
While abroad, I conquered public transportation. Despite my expectations of failure, I succeeded. At first, public transport intimidated me. English was rarely spoken by train and bus drivers, and I needed to navigate on my own. I needed to have the confidence to ask others around me for help and learn names and places unfamiliar to me. I also needed to be aware of Danish public transit culture. Although passengers are allowed to talk, the trains are mostly quiet. It’s not common to smile and make eye contact with strangers. I needed to be aware of my presence and be respectful of others’ space. In order to attend my program, I rode the public trains every day for up to an hour. This challenge posed to me changed my perspective on how I viewed the feeling of being uncomfortable. I finally understood that I can handle any task placed in front of me. Given some time, new skills can be learned and developed; no longer will being uncomfortable restrain me from trying new hobbies or starting a new job. I understand, given some time, that I can handle anything that appears.
In conclusion, going abroad was the best decision I made while in college. The self-discovery journey I experienced increased my confidence, my professional communication skills, and my determination for success. I wish I had taken advantage of studying abroad earlier. After my trip, my college experience was changed for the better. If you’re considering going abroad, you should do it. You might be intimidated at first, but that intimidation turns into the greatest experience of personal development. I wish I could do it again.
Abbey Vernon is majoring in Economics and spent Spring 2020 studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark through CIEE.
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