If you're going to do it then do it right.
I want to start this article by stressing that EVERYONE should do everything in their power to try and study abroad. No matter where you go it will be an exhilarating and rewarding experience. With that said, I want to make a case for taking classes that are not traditional for American college students. I'm talking about skipping on London or Paris or Madrid and going somewhere a little less first-world. Instead, take some classes in Southeast Asia like I have (I'm currently taking MMW14 in Bangkok). Jump off the beaten path and into cultures that are nothing like our own and explore a part of the globe that a company like National Geographic regularly visits. Why venture here? I've got four reasons: its cheap, its a doorway to religions and cultures misunderstood by Americans, it gives perspective, and it's a hell of an adventure.
When I say things are cheap I mean dirt cheap. I'm currently writing this article from my hotel room in downtown Bangkok which is almost identical to a room that you stay in when visiting a decent casino in Vegas. Its fifteen dollars a night. Everyday I eat the most delicious pad thai, garlic fried chicken, and dumpling soup for about a buck fifty a meal. One night during a weekend trip to Cambodia me and my friends went out and I had three courses of Khmer BBQ, picked up three pitchers of beer and a round of shots from my group at several clubs, and then took a tuk-tuk taxi home; the whole night cost me seventeen dollars. I spent less than a hundred bucks on a long weekend of bar hopping and snorkeling on the paradise island of Koh Chang. The amount of bang for your buck you get in these countries is absolutely ridiculous. I'm having the time of my life, not skimping on anything, and I'm barely spending anything.
Moving away from the financial benefits, studying in Southeast Asia has introduced and better explained Buddhism and Hinduism to me. Not many people in America know anything about these two religions and I'm sure if I asked a bunch of random people on the street the general consensus would be that they are people who don't eat cows, are from India, and pray to a fat guy. These ignorant blanket statements don't give any credit to these sophisticated beliefs. Over the last few weeks I have visited holy places like Angkor Wat, read sacred texts, and had conversations with monks. I now see how beautiful these religions are. Sure, many of the ideas and details are odd to me but these religions have motivated masterpieces and are an integral part of a friendly and considerate society. It behooves an "educated" member of American society to learn something real about the religions that a third of the world's population subscribe to because we can better ourselves and become more refined intellectuals when we are exposed to viewpoints different from our own.
Although most of Southeast Asia is exciting and gorgeous, there are darker areas as well. In the more run down areas of San Diego we are often exposed to a large homeless population wandering around trying to bum money off of people or score drugs. I see them all the time and don't think twice. What I don't see all the time in San Diego though are impoverish orphans, three and four years old, living in gutters and begging me for anything. I don't usually see large families living in mold soaked shacks that line the putrid klongs of Bangkok. I don't usually see desperate men toil and scrape by with their families unable to make more money because of a strict caste system that keeps them in submission. All of this is shocking but it causes one to look at themselves and at their own country. During my time here I have gained more compassion. I am reminded, and have become more appreciative, of the fact that I live in a country where all men are equal. Those God given natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness really mean something when you see someone who has none of that. It is not common to be exposed to people in Europe with nothing but their families, their religions, and their unending inequality. This alarming reality and subsequent introspection is life changing, is life improving, and is only available far away from the West.
The sights of the poor and suffering are painful but they do not define the experience in Southeast Asia. This place is beyond beautiful, and studying here is above all a terrific adventure. During your stay you will spot elephants and monkeys in traffic. You will drink and eat in florescent bars where you will meet people from all over the world who came here with the sole purpose of having fun. You will journey to paradises like Koh Chang and Chiang Mai and take snapchats on the beaches where the screensaver photo on your phone was taken. You will explore the jungles and temples built by ancient civilizations. You will learn new words and to love the muggy heat that intensifies both the atmosphere inside a dance club and casual strolls around the busy cities. Most importantly, you will learn about yourself. You will learn that we inhabit a world not all the way Westernized, and how you can fit into it. You will learn that reflection on societies and ideologies different from your own make you a more enlightened person. You will learn to make the most of this life and go on every adventure that it offers.