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.
After a month of travel after his program, Matt is back home and back on CAPA World for one last post as an official CAPA blogger. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us this semester, Matt! We wish you all the best.
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde
If you are a college student, I can guarantee that you have at some point been told that you are in the prime of your life, you are unstoppable, or even ‘follow your dreams.’ Well, as a study abroad student, I can tell you: you are not limitless and every choice you make impacts you. You learn to appreciate everything when you can only cherish it for so long. So, let me share my advice when it comes to studying abroad; whether general or personal, I hope it can help steer you in the right direction.
1. Weigh the benefits.
What will you take away from study abroad? What do you want to take away from studying abroad? How will it enhance your education? These are questions you need to really consider before you even start looking at a study abroad program – if you can answer them and your interest is piqued, great! If you are unsure of your answers, keep researching and look more into your education.
Very vague one here, but if you are on the edge of deciding whether or not to study abroad, talk it out. There are many people you need to talk to – first, your parents. A study abroad trip is a very big commitment, financially and spatially. Although homesickness is bound to ensue, you don’t want to sulk for three months because you are 9,000+ miles away.
Second, talk it over with your advisor. College is here to enhance our educations, how will study abroad fit in with your plan for the future? You need to think this over first, then ask your advisor about the best programs you can consider for your major. There are many major specific study abroad programs; you just have to research and find the one best for you. If you are told that there is a possibility that you might be set back, do you want to take the chance of having to stay at school an extra semester? Get the insight from a councilor and your study abroad office and see what they have to say.
Consequently, you have to find the semester best for you. Admittedly, this is my live and learn advice. My semester of study abroad was not the best one for me, and I wish I had planned better. I went my first semester of my sophomore year, which prevented me through my school’s regulations, to get an internship while I was abroad. Sydney was full of amazing opportunities, yet I was sitting still. So, find your best semester to study abroad, work with your resources, analyze your schedule, and learn your university’s restrictions!
3. Health - Mental, Physical, Emotional
Study abroad takes you away from your life for about 90 days. Are you up for it? And don’t rush this decision. Not only will you get homesick, but you will face culture shock, reverse culture shock coming home, and chances are you will get sick abroad as well. I know I did! But beyond that, you need to remember that life for everyone else still goes on, even while you are abroad. Life is unpredictable, and you really are unable to go back home in times of a tragedy. So once again, evaluate your current situation and ask yourself when would be best for you to go. Also, I would recommend going to a doctor beforehand, and, once you get to your host city, familiarize yourself with a general practitioner in case you need to go while abroad. (AND DON’T HESITATE TO GO!)
What is your travel experience, and how comfortable are you traveling? But beyond that, ask your friends or your study abroad office to set you up to talk to someone who studied abroad where you would like to go. What someone who has traveled before you tells you is probably some of the most beneficial advice you'll receive. Take it to heart, heed their warnings, and listen to what they have to say.
Studying abroad truly is an incredible, unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience. You not only create lasting friendships and memories, but you get to learn through a different lens. Perspective is everything, and where and how you see the world can be altered forever. The decision to study abroad is personal; I can only try to coax you to do it. I chose impulsively, others chose randomly, and many had it thought out. Follow your heart, because you don’t know where it will take you.
I can tell you definitively that one year ago I had no intention of studying abroad, yet it has probably been my best decision to this day. The experience you get from study abroad is personal as well. You make and shape your own destiny; your experience is no different. Really it is an indescribable thing – it can be reflected upon and there can be attempts to explain it, yet words and pictures are not the same as memories. If you are curious, have a look at what the future might hold.
That’s all for now,