Why Study Abroad?

So close, yet so far.

So close, yet so far.

Random Observation/Comment #196: This blog has been around for a little over a year and I am glad I have kept it consistently updated about random things for this long. It’s has been my greatest success in side projects and has led to so many more different ideas that keep myself enjoying what life has to offer.  It took some time, but I stepped back from a brainwashed cookie-cut path that everybody “should” take.  It doesn’t mean that I could have read some book or even my own thoughts about this and skipped the whole phase – rather I feel that living this brainwashed life and then suddenly traveling abroad and seeing it unravel, is part of this enlightenment experience.  Without those torturous all-nighters and unforgiving professors, I would not have developed the work ethic and curiosity/thirst for knowledge.  There are so many topics that I like reflecting on, but the past year has been looking for that career.  It’s a difficult choice and all of my research has been recorded to help me make that decision.  Studying abroad and testing each dimension of preferences really provided the perfect “experimental setting.”

I was asked to write something about studying abroad and I realized that everything in my past year of writing has been in some way connected to finding myself in another country.  I guess I could relate it specifically to my project involving artificial intelligence research and applications, but I think my intentions for this traveling experience is clear: I am finally on a vacation – away from the stress of deadlines for 8 professors, each with a tight lock on my schedule and subsequent social life (or lack thereof).  I can easily list the advantages of utilizing the resources for the robotics applications in Osaka University and Hamburg University, but I think this is quite obvious.  Most people are given a choice of countries they would prefer to study abroad in.  Everyone has that one that they’ve always wanted to go to.  Mine was always Japan because of the technology advancements and Otaku lifestyle.  Because of this intrinsic interest in this country, I made my dream come true and worked with some of the most brilliant students and professors I have ever read about (let alone, meet).  Their accomplishments made me salivate and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  After studying abroad in Japan, I was not finished with exploring the possibilities abroad.  I found the contrast in work ethic and hierarchical political structures between Japanese and American methods to be so significant that I was curious how other countries compared.

From my social psychology class, I learned about a few of the major differences between cultures, and I found Germany to be one of the most interesting.  Their attention to detail and punctuality made me wonder how a research position would compare.  My conclusions will be more concrete after I finish my time here, but it has definitely been different.  There is a level of freedom, respect, and trust between the teams and it’s a wonderful mixture that allows for achieved deliverables and actual results.  Excuses are ignored and what matters is the product.  The separation between work and social life is very clearly defined and I feel an overall reduced pressure in this environment.  In Japan, I was afraid that my work would disappoint them so I spent weeks trying to achieve some perfection.  Here, I seem to have a good time completing the project, while eventually reaching the same amount forward.

So, that’s what I found to be quite obvious about research and actual work (yes, obvious).  What’s not so obvious is the method of fully utilizing the study abroad experience to broaden your views of the world.  For third year college students, a summer abroad studying experience is never about the material you create in this new environment.  There is no way that a single summer course or 10 weeks of research can change the world.  What’s important to realize is that, although the world has not changed, this experience can change the world you see.  Whether it’s the comparison of lifestyle or different types of people, each person has a different aspect of life that becomes clarified by their abroad experience.  I can’t say which one yours will be, but I’m sure that an open-mind and the willingness to openly socialize with everyone will provide enough fuel to find your answer.

I have never met someone who has been to a study abroad program that said, “Oh, that study abroad program was horrible.  I had a terrible time.”  And even if there was an opinion similar to this, at least they know that being away from home and meeting new people is outside of their comfort zone.  It’s about using this time to learn more about yourself and how you present yourself.  It’s also about making new friends and growing connections.  There’s always someone unusually interesting in a group, and their shy nature requires that ice to be broken before they reveal those opinions that could change your life.  By immersing yourself away from home in a new language and new customs, you increase the chances of meeting someone with a different attitude and perspective towards life.  I think this is the value of learning about other cultures through these first-hand experiences.  (Plus, there are no alcohol restrictions).

~See Lemons Study Abroad