Wait, this was STUDY abroad?
I think it is safe to say that a lot of people in college enjoy competing about this or that. We like to argue about which classes are the hardest, or who has the most reading, or which professor is the best. But it seems that people go abroad, and all of a sudden the competition is who had the easiest time academically while they were out of the country. Our new competition isn’t who has the hardest professor, it is who can get away with paying the least attention. We have new challenges: who can get to the most international destinations, the most museums/restaurants/pubs/clubs in our respective cities, who has the best pictures, who has the most outrageous cultural story, etc. etc.
I’ve just submitted my last assignment for the semester. I’ve just submitted my last assignment for the year. It isn’t the last assignment I’ll ever complete, but I’ve just submitted the last assignment I need to submit in Prague. Probably forever.
I didn’t play the “my-class-is-easier-than-yours” game. Because I did a lot of the work we were supposed to do over the course of the semester (year), in spite of the fact that you can pretty easily get away with not doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I probably did as much work over the course of the year that I would do before Fall midterms back at Tufts. I’m not pretending this year was particularly academically difficult. But while academic difficulty is proportional to how much you study, it isn’t representative of how much you learn.
I learned a lot this year.
I learned about myself, I learned about my friends even though they were thousands of miles away.
I learned what I value in new friends, and (perhaps more importantly) I learned about what I can’t stand in people.
I learned a lot about traveling smart. I learned that I thought I knew how to travel before I came to Europe and, though that may be true, I learned more in the last nine months and I learned that I will always be getting better at traveling.
I learned that I can study in a different environment, and that I can adapt to a different system where nothing happens all year and then all the tests and papers are compressed into one week. I learned that I can both plan for and deal with that stress. I learned that a lot of people can’t.
All that learning aside, there was only one class for which I studied. That was my Czech class. And I don’t know if I even call what I did for that class studying. It was more like practicing. I very rarely crammed vocabulary or grammar for a test, I never felt like I was forced to memorize something. I learned Czech not by studying it so much as I learned it by practicing with it and using it.
Seven years ago this month, I was in Japan. It was my first international trip without my parents. It was an opportunity full of learning, and exactly no studying. It was full of learning Japanese by using it. It changed my life, and I didn’t realize that until months, heck, maybe even years, after I got back. I still realize to this day skills that I have are skills I learned or honed on that trip oh so long ago.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand the impact that this year has had on me. I know I learned a lot, emotionally and intellectually. I absorbed waaay more about Czech history, politics, and history than I ever could have if I had taken an entire year of courses about it at Tufts. And I didn’t study it. I lived it.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Maybe, as I look back on this year, I just think its funny that this experience is called “Study Abroad“. “Learn Abroad” I could understand. “Be Abroad” I get. But Study? Hmmm…