Three Lessons I Didn’t Expect to Learn from Studying Abroad

The following is the experience report that I wrote about my entire study abroad trip as my final assignment from Jeff.

Before even leaving on my study abroad trip to London I was given the assignment for our class of writing down my goals. I had never been to another country before and I knew that an internship in London would look great on my resume, but without any idea of what to expect from this experience I found it very difficult to outline more specific goals. So without going into much detail, I wrote that, academically, I hoped to strengthen my communication skills and personally, I wanted to learn how to adjust to new and unfamiliar surroundings. These were the general goals that I hoped to accomplish. I believe I did accomplish these goals, but I think there are many more lessons that revealed themselves along the way that I never could’ve predicted learning. Here are three of these lessons that stood out most to me.

1. Experiences are key

One thing I really did hope to gain was new experience, both for my resume and for my life. My internship at Tobias and Tobias certainly provided a lot of opportunities for learning that I could not have gotten from the classroom. I was challenged many times to be as creative as possible. When we were given projects we were always pushed to make something unique that would stand out, especially if it was a piece that would be shown to a potential client. There was a sense of importance on many of the things I worked on knowing that they would be used in legitimate business documents. However, our superiors at Tobias and Tobias were so helpful and friendly towards us that the pressure I normally would’ve felt in this situation was lessened greatly. They knew how to guide us in the right direction when we felt lost and there was always something new to work on. I had the opportunity to make a podcast and a video and I also was able to work with others on presentations, case studies, and a blog post.

I also gained many new experiences outside of work. I was able to make a new home in the beautiful Regent’s Park which I explored through several early morning runs. I walked up and down the Thames and several different markets where I sampled the local food (which could really end up being from just about any country). I visited the English towns of Oxford and Cambridge famous for their prestigious universities and even ate at the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet and talk about their stories. Two short flights landed me in both Dublin and Madrid which were separate adventures all on their own.

So what can I take away from all of these different experiences? After all, the experiences themselves are already over and can never be fully relived. Sure, there are pictures, stories, and memories, but the actual moments can never be felt in the exact same way that they were when they were actually happening.

What I can do is keep writing and use that as a way to pull useful information from the experiences of this trip into other areas of my life. If my brain is a giant bucket of thoughts and ideas I want to add these experiences to this bucket. By writing some of it down I ensure that it will stay fresh in my mind, right at the top of my head. This will make it easier to draw connections from these experiences to anywhere else that similar ideas could be applied. These connections could occur anywhere; future jobs, personal relationships, everyday life. I can’t know exactly how my present experiences will impact my future, but I know that I need to pay attention, stay mindful and present, and keep my eyes and ears open so I can be ready to make those connections when they show up.

2. Not knowing is freedom

I need the unknown to be thrust on me because, in most cases, I’m not very keen on pursuing it myself. That was one thought that lead me to do study abroad. As I mentioned before, I hoped to gain new experiences, and what could be newer than jumping in a flying metal tube, landing on the other side of the ocean, and exploring new and unfamiliar countries? I knew that any study abroad program I chose would gift me with new academic knowledge, but then again, I can gain new academic knowledge from any class I take at Michigan State. What made studying abroad so unique existed in the fact that I had absolutely no idea what to expect from being thrown headfirst into an entirely different environment with a new set of rules– somewhere that looked and felt fresh and invigorating and at the same time a little terrifying in its scope.

However, I was quite surprised, to find that, although it was all of these things and more, it didn’t last this way for quite as long as I had thought it would. The newness of it, the different accents, strange currency, and the confusing subway maps were a bit overwhelming at the beginning as I tried to get my bearings, but I was amazed at how quickly I was able to adjust and become accustomed to all of these things. It was intimidating when I first landed at Heathrow airport all on my own and had to navigate myself in a place I’d never been, but despite it being a different country, I soon realized the unknown really isn’t all that different. Soon I was a pro at figuring out where to go. Instead of anxiously fumbling for directions I was able to calmly travel as I pleased.

Of course in London they at least speak the same language, my weekend in Madrid presented a whole new challenge by testing my limited knowledge of Spanish. Although, even in Spain, I successfully traversed the city for two full days all on my own. I even met other English speakers from both England and America in a small bookshop gathering where I spent the evening entertained by a British girl’s guitar and a new (used) book in my hand.

The insight I gained from these moments is invaluable. I realized that with just a little change in my pocket and nothing but time to kill I really could head anywhere I pleased and still end up where I needed to be, even if I didn’t know where that was to begin with. This was an incredibly liberating feeling to think that this ‘unknown’ which causes me so much daily worry could actually be the source, first, of newness, followed by comfortable familiarity, and ending in freedom.

3. There is no right path

Life is hard. Everyone knows this is true. I experienced this truth many times throughout this trip, but I eventually learned not to make a judgement on life itself as being either good or bad based on the fact that it is sometimes very difficult. We may not know the reason for these obstacles, but they are nonetheless an inevitable part of the path we all walk. I learned that this is especially true when it comes to the career path of a professional writer.

On the first full day of work at Tobias and Tobias the three of us who were interning there were asked to give short introductions about ourselves to the office. A common theme that came up for all of us was that we weren’t entirely sure yet where we wanted our careers to go.

During the course of this trip I learned first-hand, and through several second-hand accounts, that a career in writing is not a straight shot from school right into your perfect job. There is a lot of feeling around in the dark that happens as you jump from job to job. It might seem like a constant stream of failures, but now I’m starting to see that in order to feel fulfilled in this profession I need to look at these, not as failures, but as experiences that are helping me to grow and develop to where I need to be.

I realize now that even though I might set a goal for where I want to go with my career that I will most likely end up somewhere completely different. I also know that this is not a bad thing. I still think it’s important to set a goal for myself, but I shouldn’t let my expectations be dependent upon that goal being realized. The goal gives me a direction to move in and actions to take, but I can’t actually predict where I will ultimately end up. I just have to continue to do my absolute best in whatever I spend my time on and trust that if I consistently put forth this effort towards quality work that I am proud of that I will end up wherever it is that I need to be.


Article by Mike Brichta

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