Growth, Travel

When I Was 22: The Best Decision I Made

May 22, 2014

Lately, there’s been a fantastic LinkedIn Influencer series titled “If I Were 22”(#IfIWere22) but I’d much rather share one of the best decisions I made around that time: I participated in a study abroad exchange program. In one of my earlier articles “When Your GPA Doesn’t Matter”, I place much higher value on the soft skills you develop in the course of tertiary education over that of the grades you obtain in day-today classes. For me, being a part of an exchange program really helped me develop and solidify these skills and opened my eyes to so much more.

For me, being a part of an exchange program really helped me develop and solidify these skills and opened my eyes to so much more.

As children, our world is only as big as what we experience. I started at a suburban elementary school where all school and after-school activities didn’t extend further than one or two suburbs down the road. I could remember each and every single classmate in my year and even in a few years before and after me. Moving onto high school, I realised my achievements in my younger years were nothing compared to that of my peers. The transition to college was even greater – the sheer number of people from so many different backgrounds is overwhelming and it took some time to adapt. When you take this transition to an international scale and go on exchange as I did, everything is brought into perspective and you become much wiser for it.

My semester abroad was spent at Kansai Gaidai, a language university in the small suburb of Hirakata in Osaka, Japan. I wanted to immerse myself in the language and the culture so I could improve my Japanese rather than focussing on my core major of marketing, but there were some friends who successfully applied to top tier Ivy Leagues to work on the law or business side of their degrees. No matter your objective, the international experience is remarkable in teaching a few life lessons:
1/ Attain A Global Mindset
Technology has enabled the fast-pace growth of globalisation across all facets in life. No matter what career path you take or what lifestyle you lead, you’ll undoubtedly encounter people from all over the world and walks of life. During my time in Japan, I met students who were from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds who shared stories and experiences that I was completely oblivious to as well as their dreams of becoming language teachers or becoming extreme sport coaches. I heard about life growing up in Kenya, traditional drinking games from Denmark and even scary Halloween experiences in Georgia. They approached learning differently from me, they approaching living differently from me and I would probably not change that much as a result but I was made aware of these differences which now, just a few years after my exchange, has really helped me adapt to working for global firms and connect with people from half way across the world both personally and professionally.

2/ Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Most people spend their childhood in one or two cities – I spent almost all of it in Sydney. Besides the yearly trip to Hong Kong, my family rarely travelled. I was raised in a conservative environment which was always familiar to me throughout my life; changing very little. Studying abroad for me was like sky diving; every moment leading up to it was incredibly scary and daunting but once pushed over the edge, the experience challenges everything you’re accustomed to on the ground but at the same time be exhilarating. Right after that jump, your body and senses adjust to the experience of being suspended mid-air in the same way that I adjusted to a whole new culture with a whole different group of friends. This is what makes you learn and grow.

3/ Gain International Independence
For some, college life is the chance to be independent as they move away from home but for many of my peers and I who lived relatively close to college (and with rising rental costs!) we would stay at home with family. That said, even those who have experienced local college independence from family, international independence is a whole new ball game. For all of us, it was a chance to learn how to set-up a bank account in a new country, what and how to cook a meal for yourself when you’ve never seen half the ingredients available at the local supermarket and to figure out which hand signals work best when buying a cell phone! We take for granted that most of these things are either already done for us back home or are easy to accomplish in our local language. Being abroad helps us adapt to these situations much easier for the future.

Now, when someone asks me for advice on how to make the most of college, studying abroad is what I encourage the most above all else. It doesn’t matter which college your choose to do the program with or which country you choose to live in – anywhere in the world which takes you away from your home country will teach you, show you and immerse you. My only regret? The fact that I only went for a 6-month program not a 12-month program – filling in that exchange application was the best decision I made.

Photo Credit: Amy Andress/Flickr

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