As the spring semester begins, students who were abroad in the fall returned to campus. Lily Carson (junior) studied abroad in Granada, Spain where she wanted to experience living in a culture she had visited years ago and also further enhance and practicing her Spanish.
“I think I just really wanted to expand my scope of world and where I live because it’s so easy when you live in a place to just think that that’s like the entire world,” Carson said. “Visiting a place is so different from living there.”
While abroad, Carson said her main focus was becoming more open-minded and understanding of the larger world.
“I think that there are some people that just may not be at a point in their life where they’re open to learning, but you just have this mindset of, ‘I’m new. I’m a visitor here. I will live here but I have so much to learn, and I can’t impose my own cultural beliefs on these people because I’m living in their place,’” Carson said.
Samantha Murphy (junior), who studied abroad in Vietnam, said that completing research on the country’s sex industry came with many challenges. While she was there, she would go to government buildings to ask for information and sometimes get turned away. However, she believes this enhanced her communication skills and confidence level.
Murphy felt that she gained meaningful connections with some of the locals, including with a store owner who would close her store to eat with Murphy when she arrived. Murphy said she learned a lot from experiences like this.
“I learned about the perception of time there. It’s really common for them to be late to certain meetings because, on the way there if you’ve run into anyone, you can’t be like, ‘Sorry, I gotta run.’ You have to sit down to have a whole conversation because they value relationships more. I think [the store owner] closing her store and eating with us was her way of showing me that she’s glad I came here,” Murphy said.
Since returning to the U.S., Murphy said she finds herself constantly thinking about the cultural differences between home and Vietnam.
“When I first came back, it felt so weird that everything was so rushed, you had to talk fast to get things done faster, and you had a million things to do,” Murphy said. “In Vietnam, I was able to understand what it means to be present more because I felt like more people around me were.”
Carson said she also recognized the differences in lifestyles between Spain and the U.S. Carson said being abroad in a society where people are focused on living more slowly and enjoying themselves has influenced Carson to implement those ideas in her life, especially in academic settings.
“It taught me to put myself in a mindset of trying to be really intentional with everything I did,” Carson said. “Realistically, you’re not going to be able to focus all day in a nine to five schedule, and you would [need] a break. I think that that really changed my whole perception of what work looks like.”
Carson said she has been implementing this new approach to her lifestyle back at Occidental College.
“I’m a lot softer on myself in terms of just doing things that I feel are really important for myself,” Carson said. “If I am putting myself in a new situation or meeting new people, there’s so many things I can learn versus only seeing it as, ‘This made me uncomfortable.’ There’s just wonderful things to come out of discomfort and failure.”
Halle Knutson (junior) studied abroad in Amsterdam, Netherlands where she hoped to learn more about their political climate as a politics major. In addition, Knutson branched out and traveled to many different countries in Europe during her time abroad, but said she was always happy to return to the Netherlands.
“I wanted to not only prove to myself that I could do it, but just to exceed at something by myself,” Knutson said. “I didn’t have any friends that I went with, so one thing for me was that I really wanted to go and have a great time, meet new people and have new experiences.”
Similar to Carson and Murphy, Knutson said that she believes she learned a lot about herself as a person.
“I learned so much about myself and that was the biggest thing to learn just how I am as a person — by myself — independent of the comforts of [home] and my friends from [home],” Knutson said. “I just learned so much about how to travel and do certain things independently, especially in a different country.”
Carson said she is grateful for the friends she made and strong bonds she created with them throughout the trip. Her fondest memory was the trip back to Spain from Morocco with many other members from her program.
“We were outside and our feet were hanging on the edge of the boat while listening to really loud music, and everyone was singing along together. It is such a core memory ingrained in my mind. We weren’t even really talking, but it was about taking everything in that we had just experienced and feeling so together in that moment. It felt like extreme happiness and a total mix of emotions, but I was like, ‘I’m going to remember this forever,’” Carson said.
Contact Martha Farah at firstname.lastname@example.org