Last week, I was at home in Gothenburg, Sweden. During the fall I am living in Dublin, Ireland doing an Erasmus exchange at Trinity College. The week was a reading week there, meaning there were no lectures and we were expected to study by ourselves so I went home for the week. It was such a great week and it made me think a lot about why I would leave such a great place where my girlfriend, family, and friends all live. In this blog post, I will do some reflection on why I think travel and cultural exchanges are great for personal growth and life in general. I will detail my own experiences, reasons for doing them, and what I believe have been the effects.
My Student Experiences Abroad
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Studying in Dublin is the third time I am living outside of Sweden and attending school there. The first time was when at 10 years old I moved with my family to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In Tanzania, my father worked at a research center in Dar es Salaam and conducted research on fishing in Lake Victoria. He is an environmental economist focusing on mainly fishing and aquaculture(like agriculture but in water). My mother on the other hand took time off from teaching journalism and instead worked on writing a book for teaching journalism. My younger brother and I attended the International School of Tanganyika for the year and I was able to skip a grade and started fifth grade instead of fourth like I was supposed to back home. The school was full of students from all over the world with many of my classmates having parents who were diplomats or international business people. The school was amazing and I learned a ton, both from the curriculum and maybe even more so from all the fascinating people I got the opportunity to meet.
Rockport, Texas, USA
The second time I went to study abroad it was not with my family. Instead at 16, before my last year of high school, I decided that I wanted to go to the US for an exchange. Ever since attending IST, I had been enamored with having extracurriculars such as sports in school. In Sweden, this is not how it works instead it is all club sports. For me, that meant that most of the kids on my sports teams were not the same kids I was going to school with. It was also something about representing your school that intrigued me. Then during high school, I got really into American football. I started playing in the one local team in Gothenburg and enjoyed it. I then had the dream of possibly making it over to the US to play football there. This combined with being a year ahead in school compared to my peers made me decide to go to the US. I ended up spending a year in Rockport, Texas.
During the year I had the opportunity to experience the small-town Texan lifestyle. It was way different than Sweden. I remember riding into town with my host parents from the airport and thinking ”where are all the people?”. There were no people walking on the streets instead there were plenty of cars and no one on the streets. The cars looked different too, these were not the Volvo V60s from back home, instead, the streets were full of pick-up trucks, Ford F150s, and Dodge Rams as far as the eye could see. There is much more that could be said about the year and I am sure I will share it in more detail later on. During the year, I had the opportunity to meet and form relationships with people I would have never met back home. I got to go on my first duck hunt, play Friday night football in Texas, go to prom, watch my friends graduate, and also experience an American election year up close. The year was completely different from anything I had experienced before and it was great. I made great friends and created life-long memories.
Now for the third time, I am studying abroad. This time it is in the form of the exchange program Unitech which gives European engineering students pursuing their M.Sc. degrees the opportunity to both do an academic exchange and an internship with one of their corporate partners. Currently, I am on my academic exchange here in Dublin. I have been here for close to two months, time flies. It started off being a little rough because I struggled to find a place to live. Dublin is experiencing one of Europe’s worst housing shortages, something I got to experience firsthand. This was way worse than I expected and having spoken to several of my fellow students at Trinity most of them seem determined to leave the country after graduation for a few years due to the lack of housing. Fortunately one of the Unitech students from Dublin had a contact that proved fruitful and after 10 days in hostels, I got a lease. Dublin is a vibrant city with lots of international influences. The Irish have a tradition of emigrating but also of accepting immigrants to their shores. Ireland is a place full of history and just attending a historic institution like Trinity College which was founded in the 16th century has taught me a ton about history. Living in a different European country has also shown me the similarities and differences between different European nations. I feel much more European. It teaches you a lot about yourself as well as the place you are studying at to be away.
Benefits of Studying Abroad
I thought I would share some of the benefits I see with studying abroad. I have grouped them into 4 sub-categories which I will describe further in detail below:
- Personal growth
- Fun new adventures
- Time travel
- New relationships
I believe going abroad can be amazing for personal growth. You will meet people with different backgrounds and experiences, you will adapt to living in a new place, and you will gain new perspectives and a better understanding of the world. There are several more reasons why I believe you will grow as a person from going abroad. It is an opportunity to learn new things about a new place, new people, and above all about yourself. It can be scary and lonely at times, but from it, some of the best experiences will be had. Getting out of your comfort zone will force you to grow.
Going to a new place will inevitably lead to fun new adventures. Being a traveler allows for so many new experiences, going to the grocery store in a different country can be an adventure in itself or just walking in a random direction. Being in a new place means everything is foreign and everything is novel, embracing this can be amazing. Moving can be an opportunity to get out of a rut and form new routines and habits. The world is full of adventures and waiting for you to experience them.
Time travel might not be the correct term, but at times it can feel like it. I have had the sensation that every year of my life goes quicker than the last, as a child a summer would feel like an eternity. This is partly due to each year being a smaller part of my life, but I would also say it is because my life today is more of a routine. Whenever I go on trips or have completely new experiences it feels like I am able to fit a lot more into my days. I perceive the new experiences as having lasted a lot longer than normal days. Going away to study has this effect too. Living in the US for a year felt like I managed to get the full high school experience in one year. So if you feel like time is moving a bit too quickly try to find something new to learn or experience and I am sure it will help. You don't even have to leave your city, instead, you can cultivate what Rolf Potts calls the traveler's mindset even when you are at home, this means taking a new way home from work or trying a new recipe at home to break your routine.
Going to a new place will in most cases lead to creating new relationships too. These might not all be good relationships, but most of them will be if you just try. Having to make new friends might seem daunting at first, and it can be, but generally moving somewhere new to study is a great way to meet new people. I believe good relationships are a big part of living a good life and you never know when you will make a new great relationship. Maybe you just have not met your best friend yet because you lived in different countries. This relates to making it more likely that you become lucky, there are steps you can take to easier create your own luck, and moving abroad is a great way to do that in my eyes. This relates to a talk by Shaan Puri I listened to recently if you want to know more about forming your own luck.
I believe traveling the world and studying abroad is a great thing to do for everyone. There are multiple reasons to do it and you have to decide for yourself if it is something you want to do. I am not saying you have to study somewhere else to have new experiences or meet new people but it does facilitate it. You can embrace a mindset that is open to new experiences living at home too. If the traveler's mindset interested you I would recommend you to read Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, it is one of my favorite books and I have read it multiple times. If you are more of a podcast listener Rolf has also done a great podcast with Tim Ferriss on the topic of vagabonding.
I hope you are enjoying my blog posts. I will be writing about whatever is on my mind during the week. This is week two of hopefully many more where I manage to post on Sunday which is a part of the yearly goals I set on my birthday in September. Hope you have a great week and you will hear from me next Sunday!