Spending a semester abroad was more than just taking courses in another country for a couple of months. The experience impacted me in every way imaginable. I experienced the unknown a lot while I was abroad – public transportation, Kiwi slang, Māori language and culture, Tim Tam Slams – and each of these experiences is a memory I carry that developed me into who I am today and who I will be in the future. Study abroad taught me to be more independent, flexible and fun-loving. The five months I spent navigating the ins and outs of a new country increased my self-confidence and helped me mature as an individual. The curriculum I engaged with while abroad opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about subjects I thought I already knew, and a spark has been ignited in me to follow my passion and do what makes me happy.
While my experiences abroad may have shifted some of my plans for my future profession, there are certain qualities I acquired that will be useful no matter what field I end up in. I have a greater respect of people who aren’t the same as me. I’ve always been a tolerant person, but study abroad has helped me to better understand habits and notions of my own culture that were so ingrained in me I didn’t realized they existed. Not only have I earned a greater sense of respect for people, but I also feel more comfortable adapting to new situations and environments. My semester abroad threw many things my way I couldn’t plan for. I had to learn very quickly how to juggle them in order to succeed.
As part of my program, we went to Rarotonga, the Cook Islands. The entire trip was unforgettable. IES gave us such an incredible and unique experience that I never would have been able to plan myself. On one of my favorite days, we got to visit a school that had preschoolers through about year eight students. After our introduction and a performance from the children, we got the chance to interact with them on a more personal level. They showed us how to play the drums, husk and grate coconuts, weave plates and make coconut leaf jewelry and I even got the chance to play netball and tips with them on their lunch break. As we were leaving that day, most of the children lined up to give us parting high fives. A little girl that I played netball with grabbed my hand and interlaced our fingers instead of giving me a high five. She had one of the biggest smiles on her face I think I’ve ever seen and at that point I realized I would have been so grateful to just spend every day on our trip playing with those kids. Their lives are so fundamentally different than my childhood was, but their happiness was infectious. I have never been on a holiday where I’ve interacted with the local culture as much as we did that week. Yes, we spent our fair share of time on the beach, but I also left with a greater understanding of what life is like for Cook Islanders. I hope I can do that on all my future trips.
A semester abroad is about engaging with the culture of your host country. My program and my semester abroad helped me to do just that. I got the opportunity to embark on road trips with newly made friends, fly to the North Island and set out on an adventure in a very cramped campervan, work on one of my greatest passions (photography) and just see and experience the awesome New Zealand landscape. It seems like around every turn in the road there’s something new and overwhelming you get to take in. I spent a lot of my time abroad just feeling small in such a grand landscape. It was refreshing.
I had my life turned upside down in the Southern Hemisphere and realized that it was exactly what I needed for a lot of pieces in my life to slot together. I don’t think I’ll go a single day in my life where the impact of my semester abroad doesn’t somehow play a role in how I interact with this world. Study abroad is important. It opens new pathways and changes perspectives. Study abroad enabled me to learn about marine biology, evolution, Māori culture, and land ethics. It enabled me to learn about what it means to engage with your surroundings. It enabled me to learn about how I think about the world and what I can do to be a better global citizen. My experiences during my semester abroad are unparalleled to any method of learning I have previously been a part of. Not every moment was perfect, but I experienced so much sheer joy in the five months I spent abroad, I know I’m going to look back on those memories in the future and just soak in that happiness again. I am so immeasurably grateful for the opportunity to study abroad and I can’t wait to continue traveling in the future.