It’s the time of year when many colleges are recruiting for study abroad programs for students to participate in over the summer break. I studied abroad for a month the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college on a poultry farm in Nampula, Mozambique. Mozambique is a country in southeast Africa, and is one of the poorest countries in the world, with only a 15% EMPLOYMENT rate. Before leaving for this experience, I was nervous about what I was getting into. Now, I truly believe it was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and anyone who is considering studying abroad should do it for these simple reasons.
1. You meet and get close to so many new people.
My university is big, with over 20,000 students, so as you can imagine, I don’t know everyone. I didn’t know anyone who went to Mozambique with me at first. We all walked into our first group meeting and it was completely silent, with no one talking to each other. That changed quickly though. When you spend a month in a country with VERY limited internet access and few people who speak the same language as you, you tend to get close to those you're traveling with. I also met people who worked on the farm from all around the world, and despite some language barriers, I still formed relationships with them that never would have happened had I not embarked on this opportunity.
2. The once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
I checked things off my bucket list that I didn’t even know were on my bucket list. I swam in the Indian Ocean, and then watched the sun rise over it the next morning. I attended church in an African village, and heard them recite the Lord’s prayer in Portuguese. I did relay races at an orphanage, and slept under a mosquito net to protect against malaria. I went on a safari and saw wild lions, giraffes, elephants, and many other animals. I learned a southern hemisphere constellation, and stargazed on a beach with zero light pollution. As you can see, the experiences are endless and some just pop up and you take them because who knows if you’ll ever be back to where you are in that moment.
3. Culture shock.
This one isn’t usually seen as a good thing, but I honestly think it opens your eyes to the world around you. I went from complaining about there not being seconds at dinner, or the lack of hot water in our hotel to being thankful for any food and the fact that I even had running water. There were so many times I had to remind myself to not be a diva. I sometimes catch myself complaining about petty things, and it doesn’t take much for me to remember how truly lucky I am to have what I have.
4. You learn to get over yourself.
So what you’re only alive due to the bottle of Pepto you’ve been carrying around with you and everyone else on the trip knows it? You haven’t washed the clothes you’re wearing the whole time you’ve been away? Oh well. The most anyone has been able to do is hand wash their clothes in the sink anyways. If you start crying for some unknown reason, that’s fine too. You trip on a flat surface and you get a massive cut on your leg that you still have a scar of to this day? The worst that'll happen is you'll get the superlative for 'most likely to trip on a flat surface'. Everyone has issues of all different kinds, and you learn to accept your own and not judge anyone else for theirs.
5. People skills.
The downside to only speaking the same language as a few around you, is that you can only fluently talk to handful of people, which can cause some rifts. I learned that if I needed alone time to get through an issue, that was perfectly okay. But I also learned to look past any disagreements and work together with my teammates since that was what I was there to do.
6. You put a face on that "starving kid in Africa".
Now this is only applicable if you study abroad in an impoverished country in Africa, but it can be applied in many ways depending on where you may go. I think everyone, at some point in their life, have joked about "some starving kid in Africa" when their friend doesn't want to finish their food at a restaurant, or when their sibling doesn't like their dinner and refuses to eat it. When people joke about these “starving” kids, I now see faces that smiled at me while I was away. I remember people I worshiped with on a Sunday morning, and children who played soccer with (and MAJORLY beat) me. That phrase isn’t just a phrase anymore, it is actual people, and I do my best to speak up when someone carelessly uses it.
Studying abroad was one of the greatest experiences of my life so far. I truly don't think anyone regrets studying abroad. It might be scary, intimidating, a lot of money, etc…but there has been nothing in my life more rewarding than my experience in Mozambique. No matter where you feel called to go, GO! It might turn out to be the greatest experience of your life.