In the past decade or so, the way the world works has changed dramatically. The wide-scale adoption of the internet in most nations has created a truly global marketplace, putting pressure on the way work is structured everywhere, but especially in the developed world. The current young generation cannot follow in the footsteps of their parents, as they will not be living and working in the geographic bubble that their elders did.
The global marketplace will put them in touch regularly with cultures from across the world, and the ones that understand cultural nuances, speak multiple languages, and consider/adopt different philosophies on work and life stand the greatest chance of success in the years ahead. One way to get a leg up if you are currently in college is to seek out and apply for programs that allow you to spend a year studying abroad.
This will plunge you into an environment where your peers will have an entirely different outlook on life, speak a tongue completely foreign to your ears, and where nothing seems to make sense (at first anyway). This will teach you practical skills like different languages, and soft ones like coping and adaptation skills, giving you an edge over those drifting through life back home without ever being challenged.
Besides, it comes with copious amounts of wine/tequila/sake/soju/etc during numerous nights out with new found friends from around the world, so what are you waiting for, young adventurer? If you are all set to throw your textbooks in your backpack and take off for the other side of the pond, here are the steps that will get the ball rolling towards you landing at a foreign university in a wonderfully strange land next semester…
What experience are you seeking?
Do you geek out on all things Asian, like anime, Hong Kong martial arts flicks, and the endless permutations of Thai food? Are you a hopeless romantic, seeking to wrap yourself up in the lavish lifestyle of Italy? Maybe you have a taste for adrenaline, making the extreme activities of New Zealand and the surf breaks of Australia your best move.
The point of all these questions is to get you thinking about your passions and interests. To find your niche in this new world of ours, you need to embrace the person that you are deep down inside with vigor. Accordingly, pick a destination that suits your personality well, or your year overseas will feel like a decade.
Go it alone, or have your current school plan things?
If the idea of going through the onerous steps of applying for a school all over again (in a different country no less, and just forget about all the other logistics) make you curl up in the fetus position, then going through a program offered by your school will likely be your best option. You’ll go to a specific country with professors from your faculty, and all the incidentals like your housing will all be sorted for you.
The downside of this though is that you’ll be seeing the country of your choice in a bubble, as you’ll be taught by familiar faces, and you’ll likely be housed with people from your own country, If you select your own program or apply for a foreign university on your own, you’ll have to go through all the administrative and logistical headaches that goes with expat living, but this way, you’ll have an educational and cultural experience that is much more true to your interests and desires than the former option.
Adjusting to your new home
Once you’ve gotten through the rush of traveling to your new home for an entire year, the adjustment process to an entirely different culture will begin. To avoid awkward situations early on, be sure to read up on cultural practices before departure, and review them regularly. Look up and practice essential phrases, then extend your studying to words related to your area of interest (e.g. if you love playing soccer, learn words frequently spoken during games … if your subject is business, seek out the words in the local language for terms used both internationally and in the local biz community).
Most of all, practice your favorite hobbies and sports in your new place of residence, and look for opportunities to pick up new activities that the locals like. This will engender new friendships, and improve your social skills with respect to people of different backgrounds, which is something that will prove to be an invaluable skill in the rapidly changing world in which we live.
*Image of college students studying together in campus ground via Shutterstock