You don’t have to spend an entire semester abroad to learn valuable life lessons. Nearly 20 years ago, I spent just six weeks studying through the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Oxford University, and I learned lessons that are with me today — ones I wish I had with me when I headed to Oxford.
Adaptation is Key
The first thing I learned when I arrived in Oxford was: I would have a roommate. I grew up with my own room. I shared a room with my youngest sister for about a year; I was six. The closest to dorm living I’d been was sharing a bathroom with my sisters, and since I was so much older than they, I usually had it to myself. I had just six weeks in Oxford — I had to learn to adapt to my surroundings quickly, especially with weekend trips taking up precious free time.
David E. Smith of National University and Darryl J. Mitry of Norwich University completed a research project surveying students in short-term study abroad programs similar to the one I attended. They found that students who set goals before going into their programs, such as develop cross-cultural skills, were more likely to meet those goals. One of the goals I set for myself was to get a B-average in my courses. I usually maintained closer to a 3.7 at my home university, but this was Oxford — I knew it would be more difficult. I returned home with two B+’s. Had I gone there without goals (or with the goal of simply drinking my way through the program), I would have likely accomplished nothing.
The most important lesson learned during my program is that it’s important to look beyond. Look beyond the situations in which you find yourself. I thought I’d come home from Oxford with a fun English accent. I sounded like my roomie from Detroit instead and discovered I could pick up just about any accent I wanted. I learned to look beyond the goals I set for myself during the program. A 3.0 average? Boring. How about those B+’s? At Oxford? These days, I use goal-setting for career and lifestyle choices, like improving my time management or working out more often. Three times a week? Too easy. I work out five. No matter the setting, looking beyond the goals you set for yourself can help you accomplish even greater things.
Go Forth and Learn
Your goals are your own, and if you choose a short-term or a long-term program, you will come home with life lessons of your own. Just don’t forget to set at least one goal, even if you start small.
by H. E. James
Hattie is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho, who has traveled throughout Europe and has spent countless hours in the car travelling the around the United States. She has a varied background, including education and history as well as journalism. Hattie enjoys sharing her passions through the written word. She is currently spending many sleepless nights seeking her graduate degree but always sets aside time to enjoy a good cider.