Studying by itself can be challenging, which puts studying in a foreign country in a whole different level of difficulty. This past summer has been one of the most formative and informational experiences that I have ever had; but it may not have ended that way unless I took the advice from my professor before I left America. I can’t stress the importance of taking advantage of every minute, even if that means pushing yourself to live outside of your comfort zone.
I decided to test this theory by taking a solo trip to Vladimir and Suzdal at the end of the program. I found myself completely responsible for myself, my finances, and my communication, as I no longer has the support of my fellow students to fall back on. I was so nervous at first. I thought I would miss a train, or a bus, and end up stranded somewhere with no service or map to find my way home.
But funnily enough, I actually found myself feeling more confident in my language skills than ever before simply because I lacked resources to help me. I talked with the workers at the bus station with no problem, and even shot the breeze with storeowners in the sleepy town of Suzdal. In Moscow, most people know at least a little bit of English, so it is possible to fall back on that crutch if need be. But the cities that I visited were a bit different. The only time I heard my native language that day was when I met a girl my age who was studying English. I truly believe that my communication skills became stronger because I was by myself, and had no choice but to acclimate to the non-English speaking village.
I believe that it is important to break away from the group every now and then, and spend a day relying solely on yourself. This isn’t meant to sound insensitive, but when you’re given the opportunity to study in a foreign country for a finite amount of time, you can’t waste time waiting up for people. If you want to do something, but others don’t share the same interest, don’t get discouraged! Go out and do it by yourself! There is absolutely no shame in spending time alone. In fact, I think exploring new places by yourself is crucial to achieving the maximum amount of personal development because you are left alone with your thoughts for a while, which fosters your ability to appreciate your surroundings without being influenced by anyone’s opinions but yours.
My final point through this scatter-brained piece of advice is that you really need to make the very most of your time abroad. Live each day avoiding every possibility of having regrets on the plane ride home–regrets about not seeing a certain museum that you meant to visit, or regretting not trying harder to branch out and meet new people. Use this as motivation to make bucket lists and stick to them. Do one thing everyday that you can look back on as a significant memory of your time studying abroad. And most importantly, be independent. It may be scary, but living for yourself will give you the mental capability to do exactly what you want to do, and leave no experience unexplored.