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Jan 15 2016
by Natalee Gustin

7 Things You Learn Traveling Abroad That You Can't Learn In a Classroom

By Natalee Gustin - Jan 15 2016
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There are some things you just can’t learn from reading a textbook, daydreaming, or by watching National Geographic. The world is nearly unfathomably huge and the opportunities for exploration are endless, with new adventures waiting to be discovered around every corner. At the age of eighteen, I have been bit by the travel bug and am lucky enough to have visited a dozen different countries. These trips, while they were plenty of fun along the way, taught me some of the greatest life lessons that I couldn’t have learned by staying home. Going abroad is expensive, but the experiences are worth it. It is said that travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer, and though your wallet may be a little lighter, your heart and mind get fuller with each adventure.


1. You become more observant.

In your everyday life, it is easy to go on autopilot while walking or driving through your familiar routine. However, while traveling, you are constantly observing your surroundings and soaking up the views, trying to save every bit for your memories later. Being observant is also an important navigation tool, because when the street names become a jumble of similar sounding syllables, a spark of recognition comes from remembering the unique places you noticed earlier in order to get you where you need to be.

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2. You develop navigational skills.

Yes, paper maps are still real. In other breaking news, they’re necessary when traveling abroad because there’s no GPS telling you where to turn every 900 feet. Although they are a little more difficult to use, I have come to like paper maps because you have a better perspective on where you are in relation to other areas and landmarks, overall allowing you to understand your location better. 

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3. You know when to rely on others.

While sometimes you may feel lonely in a sea of rushing people at college, interpersonal communication is key while traveling abroad. Hotel concierges, information desk workers, taxi drivers, and locals are extremely helpful on what things to do and how to get places, even if there is a language barrier. Traveling in a new and strange place that is difficult to navigate on your own, requires you to rely on the help of others. You learn that people are often more than willing to answer your mountain of questions. From many lost, confused, and frustrated moments, I have realized that local people relieve a ton of stress and are the best resources on the area. 

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4. You gain global perspective.

 While watching global news lets you in on events around the world, you aren’t able to understand the thoughts and opinions of the people who are affected. In just one day abroad, I met a salsa dance teacher from Sweden, corporate McDonald’s employees from Dubai, a member of the Australian Army, a Polish tour guide, a Bulgarian florist, and a Romanian taxi driver. We had conversations that I could not have with other Americans; I got their perspectives on serious global issues, such as the refugee crisis, terrorism and other international affairs. On a lighter note, we chatted about travel, cultural differences and each others lives. It is a special experience to have strangers from all over the world sit down and share their thoughts, talking and laughing like old friends.

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5. You can easily unplug and enjoy your surroundings. 

 Unless you’re trying to pay astronomical roaming data charges on your cell phone bill, you won’t be able to use your phone very often while you’re abroad. You, of course, have to take thousands of pictures to relive your adventures later, but no connection means no more constantly checking Twitter and Instagram, allowing you to live in the moment. Sharing the excitement (also known as instigating extreme jealousy) about your travels is great, but the time to unplug and enjoy your surroundings is a refreshing break from the insanely connected world that we live in.  

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6. You get out of your comfort zone.

Unfamiliarity can be uncomfortable, but there is beauty in the unknown while traveling. You’ll find that little things seem like the greatest treasures: like trying a strange food that becomes your new favorite, or happening upon a quaint, quiet street amongst the chaos of a huge city. Though cultural differences are, of course, foreign, they have helped me to distinguish which traits I’d like to embrace in my life at home and to also notice the aspects of American culture that I have taken for granted and should probably appreciate more. 

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7. You can understand pieces of yourself easier.

While traveling, you experience alternative situations than you would in your everyday life at school. There are frustrating times, moments of excitement, confusion, happiness, and curiosity; all of which reveal little bits of yourself and how you handle different environments. In times of confusion, will you be patient? Will you be comfortable trying new things? Are you currently able to think logically to solve issues? Travel forces you to lose yourself in the moment, but allows you to find yourself along the way. 

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Traveling abroad can be daunting -- it is expensive, unfamiliar and requires coordination to have a great trip. However, I am a firm believer that travel is a form of education that needs to be lived, instead of just learned; one is taught about the complexities of the world and the unrevealed bits of themselves. We live in such an exciting place where adventure is anxiously awaiting, and it is a privilege to be allowed to experience it.

Lead Image Credit: Flickr

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Natalee Gustin - University of Minnesota Twin Cities

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