The return of the renaissance woman

Standard

Once upon a time, when I was maybe five, I wanted to be archeologist. I hadn’t seen Indiana Jones, but who needs a movie to convince them to play around in the dirt and dig up old stuff?

That was followed by my wish to be a paleontologist (dinosaurs!), then a neuroscientist, then a geneticist, then a journalist. I’ve been all over the map—even as an undergraduate, I studied a rainbow of things like languages, political science, chemistry, and literature, and I’ve worked with code, consulted, edited, and taught.

My story isn’t unique. I know a lot of people around my age whose interests and careers look more like a kaleidoscope than a straight line. It’s made me think—hundreds of years after the fact, are we seeing the returning of the Renaissance Wo(man)?

Leonardo da Vinci, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and Thomas Jefferson could have designed you a plane, taught you Nahautl, or built you a house, respectively. They were also artists, scientists, poets, and politicians (Sor Juana corresponded with Isaac Newton, which is pretty cool).

Industrial capitalism tends to broadly reward narrow specialization, however, so as factories started to emerge I think a lot of the innate curiosity of the human spirit became unequally distributed. I mean sure, once he became rich Andrew Carnegie had a lot of interests, but did his factory workers?

I wonder if that’s changing. I, and so many of the people I know, understand a little bit about a lot of things. Technology allows us to work more flexibly and also requires a broad, nimble skill set that doesn’t necessarily fit into the clock-in and clock-out mentality of my grandparents and their grandparents.

I believe in continuing to democratize discovery beyond the Andrew Carnegies of the world.

So, I quit my job.

Standard

As the patron saint of perpetual comings and goings, I started getting antsy in DC about six months after I arrived. But it was more than that—I’ve never been able to hold down a job that doesn’t fit into me as a person, as an extension of me instead of just a part of me, as a reflection of what I want to take from and put into the world. I don’t compartmentalize well. I get distracted easily. I’m claustrophobic.

This is kind of frustrating, because I’m also hyper-analytical. I have a strange, probably inbred need for security, and although that doesn’t necessarily include a 401K account, it does encompass a steady paycheck. Also, I’ve seen numbers related to  the millennial underemployment crisis. I read the NYT every morning and sprinkle in a little WSJ to keep me honest. I am very, very grateful for the job I had and the opportunities given to me.

But unfortunately, I just couldn’t continue to hack it—yawning in my dark cubicle at two in the afternoon while pouring over Excel spreadsheets. I mean, I could have kept waking up and getting on the metro every day—like clockwork, it required little to no effort once I got the gears in motion—but I did not see the woman that I’d like to be as I gazed further along that path. I don’t really have a lot of her form down yet . . . she’s vague, and sometimes seems too far away. Nonetheless, I don’t think she inhabits M St NW in DC.

Now let’s be clear. I deeply, profoundly admire friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers that  do those things, that are laboring intensively to build their credibility and their career as parts of all kinds of organizations. I’ll admit that sometimes I’m more than a little jealous of their  endeavours and I wonder why mine has to feel so different. Am I just undisciplined? Unwired? Occasionally, I’m tempted to chalk up my resignation to some moral failure. I do well at something just long enough to decide not to do it.

I don’t know. I think when you’re doing something that doesn’t fit right, the gnawing in your stomach makes it pretty difficult to think of anything else. I want to view myself as brave and self-assured and independent, maybe even defiant, but I’m not there yet. Right now, I’m just a little excited, a little curious, but mostly scared and unsure.

Faith is believing in what we cannot see.

I’ll be traveling for the next couple of months and then hitting that #gradschoollife again, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

The seven steps of the study abroad roller coaster

Standard

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
― Anita Desai

images

For a lot of people, studying abroad is their first major trip out of the country. Sure, maybe your family has booked a cruise to the Caribbean or your AP European History class once spent a week in Rome. But study abroad is an entirely unique experience – both for those who have traveled a little and for those who have traveled a lot.

Nothing really prepares you for the newness of spending consecutive weeks or months of your life in another country. You move around on your own, often negotiating daily tasks with a family that isn’t yours, sometimes in a language that you haven’t mastered or don’t even know very well. Everything about living somewhere else is different, whether you have no stamps in your passport or several. And then, of course, if you decide to study or work abroad more than once, your second trip will be completely distinctive from your first, and your third from your second, and so on.

While you can’t know exactly what your experience will be like before you go – sometimes the only way to really know is by doing, am I right? – you can expect your mind, body, and spirit to go through certain stages as you attempt to process your surroundings. That’s what this post is about. By understanding common stages of adaptation, you can recognize some of the emotions most people deal with when they switch countries and attain deeper growth during your journey by not letting them knock you off your feet. So without further ado, let us walk through the Seven Steps of the Study Abroad Roller Coaster of Emotions.

  1. Preparing to go and leaving home: Unreal

At this point, we view our impending trip like a new Sufjan Stevens music video. We don’t really know what’s going on now or what’s coming up next. It doesn’t even feel real. You can buy your travel-sized shampoos, your hand sanitizer, your razors, and your set of adapters and convertors weeks ahead of time. You can pack days in advance, you can check and recheck your list and view your departure letter and e-ticket until your laptop literally explodes – but you still can’t visualize the adventure you’re about to undertake. When your stomach knots as you walk out of your house to go to the airport or when it into your throat as you board the plane, it’s as if you’re staring at one big question mark. Even veteran fliers might feel their heart skip a beat when the plane takes off . . . and that’s okay.

2. Arriving: Exhaustion.

Let’s face it: by the time your plane’s landing gear drops, you will be so ready to get off of your flight that you will pour out of the cabin door. Now is when you’ll have your first glimpse of your new home. You’re pumped. The trees look different, the airport is weird, and what is up with the cars. You want to see everything. You’ll probably be jittery from nerves and a lack of sleep by the time you find your study abroad group, and meeting so many other students and maybe even your host family in one day might leave you holding on to your own sanity by mere threads. Some people find this day disappointing – you have a desire to go check out everythinginthiscityrightnow, but the fact is, you’re wiped. You need food and you need sleep and you need to recuperate from jet lag. If you successfully recover your luggage and link up with the people that you’re supposed to link up with, this day has been a success. Try to relax; your body begs you.

  1. First Week: Elation

The First Week is the Best Week. You’ve rested a little bit, you’re ready to hit the ground running, and everything out there is so.very.exciting. You’ll fall in love with local brands of soda. You’ll fall in love with waiting at the bus station. You’ll fall in love with everything. The currency and the way people talk will seem just beautiful to you. You’ll find the peanut butter grouped under foreign foodstuffs – and you’ll think that’s awesome. Typically, your initial days of exploration are done beneath the wings of your study abroad program so you feel safe, and it’s not too hard to get close to people who are also in a new country – you’ll make friends within your group. Between running around with these new friends and being guided through your host city’s most significant cultural sites, you’ll be so stimulated and so interested that you might feel overwhelmed. Your Skype phone calls to your parents will contain enough adrenaline to make both you and them dizzy.

  1. Second week: Relapse

Then, of course, orientation ends and classes kick in. All the aspects of daily life that you’ve taken for granted since you could walk and talk suddenly rear up to face you head on. You have to understand how to work your host family’s shower and stove, even when they’re not around. Getting on a bus, buying bread, or finding a pay-as-you-go cellphone can feel like a marathon. Your highs become really high and your lows become really low, and the extremes tend to stress you out. You might even feel detached from what’s going on around you – it’s hard to integrate into a place where you struggle to tell the taxi driver where you’re going. Try as you might to make local friends, social etiquette and culture boundaries – not to mention language difficulties – sometimes frustrate your efforts at first. This is when you realize that you are not on a vacation; you have actually moved (even if temporarily). It’s also the point where most people get really homesick and their Skype sessions go from ecstatic to teary.   You don’t know how to dress or how to act. You feel out of place, and you don’t know what to do. Remember: it’s alright.

  1. The meat of your experience: Settling in 

It’ll take a little while for you to memorize the route that gets you to and from class or to and from the store. When you least expect it, though, you will know exactly what bus or train or street to take when you’re running late at 8 A.M. (or when you’re trekking back to your house at 3 A.M.!), and you’ll be able to pick up a kilo of tomatoes and a sack of beans for your host mom like a pro. Maybe you’ll introduce your new family to the delicacies of American cooking (I’ve found grilled cheese to be an easy favorite), or perhaps you’ll make a routine of studying at the beach every day. You’ll have a favorite bar and a favorite special at your favorite food kiosk. With familiarity comes adaptation. If a new student enters your study abroad program or a friend from your hometown visits, you’ll be able to guide them around your city as if it were the back of your hand. And as you work out a new routine, you will meet local people and make local friends. Suddenly – just when you thought it would never happen – this strange place will be your home, with people to hang out with and worry about and care for. You’ll come back after a day of classes and your host brother will have a snack waiting for you. In a different way than the euphoria of the first few days, you’ll start to love. You’ll love your morning commute and the noises outside your window at night, you’ll love your new language, you’ll love your new friends and family, and you’ll start to feel less out of place. Homesickness will come, but it will go. You’ll learn so much through your daily interactions and observations that it would be unbelievable if you weren’t living it.

  1. Preparing to go and leaving home . . . again: Heartsickness all over 

Eventually, it will be time for you to pack up once more. And sure, you’ll be missing your parents and your dog and your roommate and your sister and your girlfriend – part of you, even a big part of you, will want to head back. But at the same time, most people experience a little bit of panic during their final weeks or days abroad. Saying goodbye to your new family and your new friends might be sadder than you expected it to be. In fact, you may be sort of a mess. How do you spend your last treasured days? How do you bid farewell to a place that you’ve explored and that’s helped you grow, not knowing when you might see it again? The finality of it all can seem like too much. Don’t focus on a grandiose sense of wrapping up – just enjoy. Make sure that you invest yourself into every second. Sometimes, booking the return flight alongside someone else in your program can make the departure easier (pulling away alone in a cab or a bus is never a good feeling). In any case, make sure you get Facebook profiles, emails, and phone numbers from everyone that has been a part of this mind-bending time in your life, and be sure to invite them to come visit you when/if they make it to your home country!

  1. Arriving . . . again: Wait, what? 

Reverse culture shock is a very real thing (it actually deserves its own post). I remember my first experience with reverse culture shock: getting off a plane in Miami and being so overwhelmed that I had to sit down. After the pure, unadulterated joy of seeing your loved ones for the first time in months or more, you might need some time to adjust back to what was once your “normal.” Things that were simple staples of life before you packed up and shipped out no longer make sense (i.e. Wal-Mart, student loans, big cars, throwing away large amounts of food, fraternity and sorority parties). It’s okay to sit back for a minute as you work on becoming re-acclimated; reverse culture shock can be just as bad, if not worse, than the initial culture shock you faced when you first left the country – even if its just because you’re not expecting it. You might start to compare everything with the place you just left, and people (even people who love you) may get tired of it. That’s why it’s good to have a solid group of friends who have also lived abroad so you can get together and recall your experiences for hours. Homesickness for your “other” home will continue to crop up at the weirdest times over the years. Make sure you stay in contact with the people that shaped your study abroad experience and don’t lose the precious perspective it has given you on yourself, your life, and your world.

In sum, breaking down after you try to buy lunch in Thailand or feeling like you’ve discovered the meaning of life while watching a sunset in the Andes are both completely normal. Study abroad is a time of humbling vulnerability, empowering independence, and personal transparency. It is demanding of your mind, your body, and your spirit, and it reworks you in a way that endures long after you’ve boarded your return flight. Being upfront with yourself about some of the emotional highs and lows you can expect to face when you move out of the country can save you unnecessary panic, and allow you to grow profoundly throughout your experience while simultaneously enjoying it more. Stay flexible, stay bold, stay curious – but most of all, be open to the adventure that’s about to unfurl in your life.
Have you ever studied abroad? If so, did you experience any of the steps on this emotional roller coaster? Do you have any advice for someone studying abroad for the first time?

If you haven’t lived abroad before, are there any steps on this roller coaster that worry you? Do you think knowing about them ahead of time will help you when you make your first big journey?

10333250_10204689066014845_687806607274493950_o-1

15 things you shouldn’t even consider leaving behind on your trip abroad

Standard

For those of you who are planning to embark on a trip abroad in the near future (or who have ever embarked on a trip abroad, really) you can probably relate to what I call the Walmart Panic Moment.  You know the moment — you’re about to take off to sites unseen for an ambiguous number of weeks or months, or even a year or two.  You’re heading off to some place you’ve never been and can’t quite imagine.  And you have one (or two, if you’re really packing) suitcase/backpack that is bound to the laws of physics and airline regulations and must somehow still fit all of your belongings within it.

And there you are, standing in the middle of Walmart with eyes as big as basketballs.  What do you purchase to bring with you?  Anything you could possibly need for the foreseeable future?  Like Special K bars — will there be Special K bars in Thailand?  Or eye makeup remover?  Or a shaving cream that doesn’t make you break out?

The answer to most of these questions is cool off.  As first-time travelers will learn and repeated travelers know already, there is probably a local answer to almost all of your daily necessities (or you will discover that what you view as a necessity isn’t really a necessity).

However, there are a few items that do not fall under the “relax and take it easy” heading.  They’re not for messing around; you really should bring them along on your journey.  And you know what?  Some of them might not seem quite as intuitive as five-blade razors and swimming trunks.  This blog is dedicated to those things, those annoying, mundane, or even obscure things that every person with a passport in hand should always remember to tuck into their luggage/knapsack.

1) Two copies of all important documents.

Right, right, right.  This is boring.  And maybe even neurotic.  And, okay, so it seems a little bit like that over-preparation-anti-go-with-the-flow thing that a lot of travelers hate.  I get that — but trust me, it’s worth the hassle.  One of two things are very likely to happen at least once on your trip: 1) you will be pick-pocketed or 2) in the daily grind of moving through unknown territory, you will leave something behind.  In either case, it can be pretty hectic trying to cancel bank cards or reclaim passports whose simple identification numbers you don’t have.  Not impossible — with the Internet, all things are possible — but it will add undue amounts of stress to an already unpleasant situation.  So if you’re bringing a credit/debit card, your license, or any other important piece of plastic, scan the back and front and print out two photocopies to hide away next to two photocopies of your passport.

2) U.S. cash.

Speaking of banks and money and that sort of thing, you’ll want to bring some familiar U.S. tender along with you.  If your cards end up not working or you find yourself stranded in the salt flats of Bolivia without any bolivianos, a couple of dollars will help you until you can get your hands on some local currency.  I’m not saying you have to be rolling in the Benjamins (in fact, you really shouldn’t travel with tons of money on you), but bring enough to get by in the local economy for a day or two without an ATM.  Also bear in mind that you will occasionally be offered better deals if you pay in dollars, and in some places (hello, Ecuador), dollars are actually preferred.  Read up.

3) Sunblock.

This one is serious, whether you’re going to Iceland or Morocco, and I’m not just saying this because I, personally, have skin that burns at a truly Guinness-World-Record-like rate (toasted ginger, anyone?).  Regardless of your skin shade or whether or not you typically suffer from sunburn, bring sunblock with an SPF of 45 or higher.  This liquid gold tends to be more expensive in other countries, and sometimes not as effective.  Also consider bringing a facial sunscreen so you can protect your entire body from damaging rays.  Hey, skin cancer is no joke, and the worst burn I ever got in my life happened to my shoe-clad feet in moderate, light-jacket-worthy temperatures.  The blisters kind of grossed out/terrified my host family.  So just bring solar protection.

4) Chapstick.

Along those same lines, you probably already have a favorite balm that protects the delicate skin of your lips from cracking and flaking off.  It’s a good idea to bring that balm along with you as you embark on your travels.  Yeah, you can find and purchase a good chapstick once you reach your destination, but do you really want the first thing you do in a new country to be running around in search of a labial moisturizer?  Besides, you’ll probably need it in the super-dry airplane hours before you touch down, anyway, and it’s small and super easy to bring along.  Other climates can have unexpectedly intense effects on your body, and urgently dry, cracked, and bleeding lips are one of them.

5) A mélage of outlet convertors and adapters.

So you brought your camera, or your iPod, or your laptop.  Those gadgets will be useless to you if you do not smooth the path between them and a recharge.  If you’re a little more high maintenance and want to bring along a hairdryer or a flattening iron, these beauty machines will be equally pointless without a way to control voltage and prong placement.  In the U.S., we operate on a 110V/120V electric system and our own particularly-shaped outlets, but other countries run on other voltages (most commonly, 220V/240, although there are other options) and definitely use different outlets.  Check out Wikipedia’s handy guide to country-specific electricity regulations, and if you plan to travel often and widely in the future, consider purchasing a traveler’s converter/adapter set.

6) Shower shoes.

You will probably be able to buy a cheap set of flip flops at your destination with some ease, so this might be the one item on the list that you actually don’t need to physically bring with you from home.  But once you arrive, do not forget to immediately purchase a pair of ridiculously-colored foam sandals!  Your feet get a lot more wear and tear than you might actually realize, and you will never appreciate that half-inch foam barrier more than when you are lathering up in a cold-water-only shower provided by a Costa Rican hostel while watching luminous, cannibalistic geckos eat each other (true story).  Bacteria travels, lodging accommodations are often uncertain, and you don’t want to end up in a hospital with a strange flesh-eating fungus.  Neither do your loved ones in the States want that phone call.  Protect your feet.

7) Towel.

If you’re of the backpacking variety, a lot of hostels either a) don’t provide towels or b) charge an additional fee for one.  But you won’t have to worry about that because you’ll already have your own handy towel folded neatly in your bag.  It can double as a pillow or a blanket if you find yourself hard up at an airport gate or bus terminal, and you never know when something unexpected will reach out and drench you from nowhere.  Happens all the time.

8) Hand sanitizer. 

This little guy isn’t very glamorous, but can be surprisingly difficult to find when you realize you need him.  It’s good to always have a way to kill the bacteria on your hands, and there’s a reason your mom used to carry a small (probably floral-scented) tube of it in her purse.  A lot of places might be lacking on the soap in restrooms (and toilet paper, for that matter, so consider Kleenex as the soulmate to your hand sanitizer), but you’ll feel more at ease knowing you don’t have to worry about such details.

9) Painkiller of the Tylenol, ibuprofen variety.

Headaches/backaches/cramps/general pains are the worst, and can really put a damper on all of the awesome experiences you’re going to have.  While painkillers will, of course, be available wherever you’re going, it’s not very safe to mess around with unfamiliar medication sold beneath different regulations.  In the beginning, at least, while you’re still getting comfortable with your host family if you have one or just starting to make local contacts if you don’t, it’ll be reassuring to have your familiar ibuprofen on hand.  You won’t have to go through hoops at the local pharmacy to understand the packaging or rely on the advice of someone you don’t really know.  Ditto for a simple decongestant and sore throat remedy.

10) Face towelettes.

I never use these in my daily life.  They’re weird, and I much prefer to wash my face with soap.  But when I travel, I’m sometimes on the road for over 36 hours or just really dirty at really random times.  Face towelettes are a simple, no-nonsense way to wipe all the gunk off without the hassle of a restroom.  They can make you feel like a new person.  Really.

11) A gallon Ziplock bag (or two or three).

These are nice for any wet article of clothing that you have to toss into your bag when you’re on the go.  They also make a convenient place for you to throw all of your bus tickets/ museum passes/ park entrance receipts.  Even if you’re not the scrapbooking type and will never, ever, ever find anything constructive to do with all of those little pieces of paper, you’ll want to look back on them again and again.  Storing them in one place is an easy way to keep track of all the things you’ve seen and remember something special about each of them.

12) A way to back up your photos.

While we’re on the subject of making memories, let me tell you the story about the time I went to Europe for awhile, crossed some national borders, took a gazillion pictures, and then lost my memory card.  That’s the end of the story, because I hadn’t backed up my photos.  Don’t make that mistake.  Whether it’s onto your computer or onto a USB stick, make sure you have a way to back up your photos when the resources are available.  You won’t regret it; what you will regret is having to comb through the weirdly-lit, off-center photos your friends took in order to look back on everything you once saw up close.  Trust me on this one.  Also consider bringing an external battery for those moments that you just have to photograph, even when you haven’t seen an outlet in days.

13) A teeny-tiny bag/backpack.

You’re going to be moving around a lot.  Sometimes, you’ll need your passport, your money, your phone, your sunscreen, and your swimsuit, but you won’t want to bring all your luggage.  The small bag/backpack remedies this situation by keeping important things safe and close at hand.  Ladies, a handbag does not count.  If you must bring a purse, make it more of a cross-body bag.  You’ll want your hands free, anyway.

14) A good fleece.

Weather can be crazy.  There’s a reason that the Inca would plant different crops along the height of the same mountain; climate conditions can oscillate wildly in a very short amount of time.  Especially if you’re going to a place that hosts varying elevations or very low humidity, your body will be shocked by all of the subtle hots and colds it never knew it could feel.  A cozy, breathable fleece will become your best friend.  It will keep you warm on chilly (or freezing) nights, and yet will be light enough to easily stow away or carry during the day.  I left one of my best fleeces in Patagonia, and I still haven’t gotten over the loss.

15) Earplugs and/or music.

Maybe you live in the rural United States and you’ve never had to sleep to a siren-horn-shouting lullaby.  Perhaps you plan on moving through backpackers’ hostels, where you could end up bunking below a person whose snores warp the time-space continuum or who likes to party until 4am.  You might really need a cat nap while waiting in a Vietnamese bus terminal.  Whatever the situation, ear plugs or relaxing music can be crucial to getting the most out of your rest — sometimes they’re the only way you can sleep comfortably.  You’ll be very happy you brought these along with you on at least one occasion, or maybe every night.

So, what do you think of the list?  Anything that surprises you?  Anything you think I should add?  Do you have any stories when a completely random object became a lifeline for you in a faraway place?

Studying abroad in this economy: Five reasons why going abroad makes more sense now than ever.

Standard

Times are tough.  The economy is a mess.  Recent graduates — like myself — are facing long lines, unanswered applications, and unpaid internships.  We live in an era where four-year colleges and universities are in decline.  Simultaneously, community colleges and technical certification programs are being hailed as a practical option for young people, a possible fix that will save students thousands of dollars and send them straight into steady jobs.  Just this past week, the New York Times reported on Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed bill, a piece of legislation that would provide two free years of community college or technical school to any state resident with a high school diploma or equivalent.

That’s great news.  Haslam’s proposal will insure a better-educated, better-employed workforce for Tennessee, as well as for other states sure to follow in Tennessee’s footsteps.

But amidst all of this talk on cutting higher-education costs and ramping up more utilitarian programs, many essential components of the educational experience are in danger of suffering.  I think the most essential of these is studying abroad.

And it’s easy to understand why study abroad is threatened by the ax.  Korea, Germany, Argentina?  How am I supposed to think about South Africa or Nepal or Australia when I’m still trying to figure out my tuition for this semester?  Or when I’m trying to get the best job available in the shortest time possible?  How am I going to learn another language?  Even if I do plan on spending years in school, wouldn’t my time be better spent taking coursework that actually means something or pursuing high-powered internships?  How will running off to another continent get me into my dream law/med/grad program?  With everything else I have going on, is study abroad even worth the effort?

Well, my answer — and the purpose of this blog — is a resounding yes.  Going abroad is worth it, regardless of what the it is (time, money, a divergence in your five-year plan).  Whether for study or work purposes, or just for good, old-fashioned adventure, getting on that plane is within your reach and it may just turn out be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

Why?  Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard about the “fluffy” stuff: you’ll grow as a person, learn tolerance, find yourself — whatever that means.  And while that’s all true, there are some other reasons to set sail for other shores, reasons you might have never even considered.

Here are a few:

1) It’s the twenty-first century.

Hey, we live in international times.  Anyone who says differently, in the words of a beloved cult classic, is selling something.  According to CNNMoney, the hottest job skill right now is the ability to speak a foreign language.  Apple, the State Department, Amazon, the NYPD, and the Army are just some of the institutions and top Fortune 500 companies looking to hire bilingual employees.  Hospitals, schools, and courts are searching voraciously for the same.  Translators and interpreters are among the top 15 fastest growing occupations in the country; without including military jobs, the field is expected to grow 42 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is a lot.

So, basically, globalization is a real thing that has a crucial impact on today’s workforce.  And what’s the best way to learn a language?  Well, going to where they speak it, of course.

2) It pays.

There are more reasons to cross national borders than just to take classes.  Yes, there are ways to make money while abroad, and actual opportunities that will bolster up your resume so you can come back to the domestic job market swingin’ — if you don’t decide to stay, of course.

English teachers are in high demand all across the globe.  Sometimes programs require a certificate in teaching English as a second language (which can even be earned online in the space of a few months at sites like TEFL online) and sometimes they don’t.  The pay might be decent, or it might be low.  The commitment might be for two years, a year, or just the summer.  There are a trillion options to get to work teaching your native language to hungry students from pole to pole.  While you need to carefully research these options and go with an institutionally recognized program, there should be a situation out there that’s perfect for you.

Of course, teaching English isn’t the only way to put a little cash in your pocket while on foreign soil.  The U.S. State Department offers a myriad of paid international internships for citizens (mostly students) that stretch from a duration of a few months to a semester or a year, as well as many job possibilities.  Plus, there are thousands of more general opportunities to go abroad as an au pair, or a domestic/childcare assistant that lives with a local family in his or her country of choice.  This option is particularly popular in Europe, where an au pair is expected to work part time and study part time.  We should also mention the hospitality industry, another goldmine for U.S. workers looking to get into a foreign economy.

Really, though, internships or long-time work overseas can be found in just about any field, from health services to engineering to accounting.  Check out GoAbroad’s job section to keep up to date on opportunities in your area of interest.

3) Even if you don’t get paid, studying abroad can be cheaper than studying domestically.

Hey, folks, it’s a big world out there, and lots of other places approach higher education differently than we do in the United States.  While a semester at a state college or private university might cost anywhere from $10,000-$30,000, living costs not included, a semester in another country can run far under that tab — even when factoring in living expenses.  Whether you want to take classes on ecology in Thailand or international business in Chile, you can earn credits that count toward your home institution while shouldering less of a financial burden.  And that’s a fact.

Additionally, most schools have ample resources for students that are looking to take some time out of country.  Just bring it up with your advisor and be surprised by the tools he or she reveals to you.  Or if you aren’t surprised, and the tools are few, there are plenty of external resources available to you beyond the doors of your college.  Many trusted study abroad organizations offer their own scholarships and financial aid, including the School for International Training (SIT)the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE), and International Studies Abroad (ISA).  They even have financial options for globally-minded high schoolers.  The U.S. government also funds international scholarships and fellowships, which can be found among the options listed on the Institute for International Education’s webpage.  Because these awards are linked to accredited organizations and institutions, the coursework you complete through them should count toward your U.S. degree.

4) Don’t want to work or study?  There are options for you, too.

International volunteering is a big deal, and still gets you the time on the ground you need to learn a new language and experience a new culture (refer back to today’s hottest job skill, found under the first bullet point).  What’s more, many volunteer opportunities are free or low-cost, and they come in a million flavors.

One option that has gotten a lot of attention in the past year or so is WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  And really, the concept behind WWOOF is pretty awesome: in exchange for a day’s work on a farm, you receive free board and lodging.  Assignments can range from days to years; you can even take a friend and travel from location to location within WWOOF’s reach of 53 countries.  If this sounds interesting but a little daunting, a handy guide for first-time WWOOFers is available here.

For those of us who aren’t farmers, many other international volunteer positions also cover living costs, including conservation volunteers in Australia and New Zealand and trek guides in Europe.  Help Exchange Worldwide hosts a phenomenal site that lists all kinds of organizations looking for assistance, from religious institutions to schools to farms to hostels to construction firms.  And that’s only scratching the surface of what’s out there.

5) Besides adding meat to your resume, going abroad — for whatever reason — will change your life.  Guaranteed.

This might be one of the “fluffy” reasons I was trying to avoid; sorry about that.  Okay — it definitely is.  But it’s so real that it must be mentioned.

When you go abroad, you will grow up.  Your routine will be broken, and you will feel exhilarated and sleep-deprived and lonely and wonderful and overwhelmed and magnificent.  You will be forced to rely on yourself like you haven’t had to rely on yourself before.  Even if you have been living on your own since you were 18 (or before), even if your parents haven’t contributed a dime to your education, even if you have signed your own apartment lease — all attributes which, in one way or another, you could have applied to me when I took off for South America in 2012 — you will be forced to push yourself to new heights daily.  Study, work, volunteer, tutor, chat, observe, party, take pictures, write, surf, horseback ride . . . regardless of what you participate in, stick it out and you will become more confident.  You will trust more in your own capacity to do and to think.  I’m not sure if that’s finding yourself or actually making yourself, but whatever it is, it’s worth every cancelled flight, every cultural misunderstanding, every uncomfortable night and language mishap.  These skills — confidence, determination, decision-making — will stay with you and aid you for the rest of your life.

In sum:

Whether you want to broaden your future, access new opportunities, make money, save money, or push yourself to new levels of personal/professional performance, taking that step beyond U.S. borders is tremendous way to accomplish your goal.  I hope you’ll stick beside me on Wanderwoman as we share ways to make that goal a reality: advice, experiences, dreams, and thoughts.

– – – – –

Why would you go abroad – for study, work, travel, personal gratification, or some other reason that I completely missed?  Why wouldn’t you?  Have you?  What did going abroad do for you?

946323_10201320641206330_1688129170_n