Last semester I embarked on an incredible four month journey with Semester at Sea. A four month study abroad program that takes place on a cruise ship. 115 days, 15 countries.
Before we all got off the ship – a mere month ago – there were questions that were tossed around. What are you going to miss most? What was your favorite port? How are we going to adjust to being home? What’s going to be your first meal? Is it going to be weird not needing to find wifi to use our phones? How am I going to fit everything into three bags?
And for the most part, I still don’t know a lot of the answers. But I do know a few: South Africa was undoubtedly my favorite port, the energy was intoxicating. I magically fit everything I had into three suitcases. The everything bagel and cream cheese I had the morning after I got home was the best of my life.
But I still don’t know a lot of answers. Yes it’s weird being home and yes I’m still adjusting. I think we all will be for at least a couple of months. And I find myself missing everything at really random times. It’s hard to put everything into words. This semester was the best thing that I’ve ever done. It was challenging at some times – physically, mentally and emotionally – but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
There are a couple important things that I took away from the entire semester that I think a lot of people should recognize.
The first being this: people are generally good. And I hate that that was surprising. We were still careful and you still have to trust your instinct, but pretty much everyone that I had the chance to interact with had something cool to say or advice to give or help to offer. Once you step away from this ambient media that encompasses our lives, you’ll learn that the world is not all bad. These people were generally happy to help, wanting to show the best of their country. Trusting other people is a beautiful thing.
Two: it’s okay to put your phone down. Some of the most genuine conversations and sights and smells and tastes were all experienced without knowing – or more importantly, needing to know – that your picture was ‘liked’ or retweeted. Because we were sharing the experience with each other, no one else mattered because we were fully present. Go to dinner without looking at your phone and take part in a conversation with your friends (knowing that everyone is actually listening), I think your followers will still sleep soundly if they don’t see the filtered picture of your dinner.
Three: While social media isn’t the most important thing to care about when experiencing new things, it is a useful way to update those you care about. Semester at Sea was the only reason I created an Instagram, because it was easier to update my friends and family.
Four: There is a universal language. Communication is so much more than what you say. And you can get farther than you think by simply knowing how to say yes, no and thank you.
Five: Getting out of your comfort zone is incredibly rewarding. It may feel awkward at first, but the world will open up once you do.
Generally, I think that studying abroad is an amazing thing for students to experience. Whether it’s a week, a month, a semester or a year, this is a perfect time to do it. It will introduce you to a great big world that will forever affect your life.