Matthew Benczkowski is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A molecular biology major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.
In this week's post, Matthew reflects on study abroad and the lessons he's learned along the way. Because the Sydney program has come to an end and Matt will continue to travel once he leaves Sydney, this will be his last post until December 13 when he will be back once more to share his final homecoming thoughts.
The New York Times quotes that study abroad “is the most effective and accessible means for students to develop needed skills because it pushes a student to get out of their comfort zone to experience another culture, language, environment and education system,” and I can attest that study abroad is a worthwhile, meaningful, and important part of higher education.
Just because I chose Australia — which barely has a language barrier or difference in culture — does not mean that I didn't get the whole ‘experience.’ What Australia lacks in difference is made up by distance. I am currently 9,627.5 miles away from home, and the furthest away two points on earth can be is only 12,540.5 miles, not even 3,000 miles more. So, how has study abroad affected me?
I have learned many things while abroad, some about Australia and school, but what I would consider more important: I learned about myself and I learned how to do various things. (Am I being too vague?)
What I have learned:
1. HOW TO DEAL WITH DISTANCE.
I wrote a whole blog on staying in touch and I use (or abuse) these methods. I am always in contact with my family because I am so far away. It is hard for me because my university is only a 2-hour drive from my house, yet here I am over 22 hours of flying away. I am aware of the time difference, so I found out how to balance how often I actually contact home.
2. HOW TO BE INDEPENDENT.
Because I am only a sophomore in college, I was still used to living in a dorm and having a meal plan, but here, I am residing in an apartment and have to cook on my own. This honestly is a huge step into the real world for me. Of course, I know how to clean, but I never liked it. However, living in an apartment with roommates, cleaning gives me peace of mind. (Don’t tell my mom!) With no more meal plan, I learned how to cook, and not just putting a frozen pizza in the oven. I now understand the time and dedication that goes into a single meal.
3. HOW TO EAT.
This will sound weird to anyone who doesn't know me, but I was previously the pickiest eater I knew, and that is saying a lot. However, in coming to Australia and traveling to Fiji, I have learned to eat the food that is in front of me. It is strange because back home, my friends know how picky I am, so I never felt weird, but in Australia with a bunch of (at the time) strangers, if I wasn't eating, I don't think they would have the understanding that my friends back home do. So, I sucked it up and ate. Believe it or not, I have tried countless new foods here, like I had my first salad on the first day, and mussels, and cucumbers, spinach, the list goes on. In Fiji, this was even more intensified because the food you got was the only food available until the next meal. In Fiji, for example, I had my first bowl of soup.
Photo: Koalas are infamously the pickiest eaters as well, limiting themselves to eucalyptus
4. HOW TO BE RESPONSIBLE.
I was taught that if you are not early, you are late. Many of my friends here can attest that I enforce this pretty strictly, especially when it comes to public transportation! I even earned myself the nickname “Matt-Dad,” because I tend to act like the dad of the group, making sure everyone is together and on time. Of course, being responsible also means eating three times a day, doing my homework, being organized, etc. as well.
5. HOW TO BUDGET.
Once again, I wrote a whole blog on conserving money, but I actually have learned how to shop wisely and spend frugally. This comes from having to fend for myself, concerning food, entertainment, and any extras. It is also because when coming to a different country I did not bring every necessity for cooking, cleaning, or living.
6. HOW TO BALANCE.
This encompasses most of what I have mentioned above, but balance is a key to living. I have learned to balance my health and diet, money and spending, and my work and play. I am abroad, after al!
7. HOW TO HAVE FUN AND LET LOOSE NOW AND THEN.
Although the classes are tough, nothing compares to taking 18 credits of chemistry and calculus, and research and writing. Being abroad is a time to learn, but not all learning comes from the classroom. I have discovered that it is fine to take some personal time, some fun time, some beach time, some relaxation time, or whatever you may need. I have caught myself constantly smiling, joking around and having fun - carefree. What this has then taught me in turn, is that I shouldn't be working myself so hard and that my normal schedule is so heavy that it is okay to reduce and relax. Everything will be fine, in other words.
So yes, study abroad is vital in that it teaches you concepts and life skills. And studying abroad does push you out of your comfort zone, but only as far as you allow it. It is worth every moment and I would never change my decision to study abroad.
So long for now,
Matthew's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.