My younger sister is a wise woman. She is self-assured, ambitious and resourceful. She knows what she wants and finds a way to achieve it. She had always been my wing woman on family trips abroad, whether it was encountering evolution firsthand in the Galapagos or watching the world flash by in a blur of neon color in Bangkok. I cannot ask for a better travel partner-in-crime.
As her older sister, I feel that I don’t often have the answers to tough life questions, but on the topic of study abroad I believe I have some knowledge, only because I have been there once before. This is not a bossy letter telling her “I told you so,” instead it’s merely a letter of encouragement. After all, I stopped influencing her since she was around seven.
Hey, do you remember that time that we were in the Peruvian Amazon at dawn to witness the most magnificent sunrise that lit up the sky with the softest blues and how our guide told us that in the rafters of our lookout post a cobra was currently residing? For the rest of the morning, I was on edge after that announcement (peering cautiously at the ceiling every few seconds), but you just calmly kept looking into your binoculars instead, focusing on the awakening landscape.
You always knew how to internalize the unfamiliar, feel at home in the foreign and see the bigger picture.
It’s hard to believe you are halfway done with college now. As cliché as it does sound, time really flies by. As you get ready for your final two years of undergrad study, I want to urge you to do one thing. Study abroad. Whether it’s for a semester or a year. Leaving your old life behind for a new home in a different country is terrifying, but it will be one of the most transformative moments of your college career.
It may seem like you are building your life back in Los Angeles, with a brand new apartment, but it will still be back there when you return. The opportunity to study abroad will quickly slip out of reach though.
But you might think, I’ve traveled abroad before. Why would I need to go for an entire semester, right?
It’s different because traveling in a country gives you only momentary exposure to a different culture. Studying abroad forces you to shift your idea of home and what that really means in the first place. Your world will expand indefinitely in the best ways possible. Of course, you will be uncomfortable and there will be days when you are so homesick it hurts, but you will make it out the other side, I promise you.
Also, it will do wonders for your future career.
Years later, when you are interviewing for your first real job, you can use your studying abroad experience and the accumulated cultural sensitivity you have gained as a way to stand out from the other applicants. The world is becoming increasingly globalized and it’s critical to have citizens who are worldly and sensitive to intercultural relations no matter the profession.
And your friends back at home…
They will all be there still. I promise. Plus there is this app you might have heard of called Skype to keep in touch with everyone back at home. I’m a big fan. For all the college festivities you’ll miss, luckily they have some local version anywhere in the world you go. Have you ever been to a party with international students? Those are the best. (But don’t tell mom and dad I said that).
Your biggest supporter,
Your Big Sister
Ways To Support Someone Studying Abroad
There are numerous ways to support a friend or sibling who is going to studying abroad, whether they are going for a semester or an entire year.
- Care packages – send a little bit of home, including their favorite items, whether it’s a favorite magazine or some candy that they love. Keep in mind shipping costs can add up quickly, depending on the country your package is being sent to, and avoid sending items that will cost an arm or leg.
- Schedule weekly Skype check-ins – one of the biggest things that helped me when I was studying abroad in Poland was video chatting with family and friends, especially since adjusting to a new country can be lonely. Scheduling a specific time every week gives both of you something to look forward to.
- Learn more about the country they’re studying in – one of the things I love when my friends or family study abroad is that it gives me motivation to learn more about their new home. You can go to a restaurant in your city or town to try the cuisine, watch a movie or read a book from this country.
Ways To Keep In Touch With Someone Abroad
There are numerous ways to keep in touch, whether its through social media, or through good old Skype. Here are a few more ideas to keep in touch when you’ve got many time zones between you.
- Marco Polo – an app where you don’t have to be live to communicate with each other, but can leave videos for friends and family to watch.
- Send postcards – buy a bunch of postcards from your hometown and send them abroad. There’s a universal letter stamp that you can buy at your local post office and stock up on. Postcards are a great way to send a quick note and there’s nothing better then getting mail from home when you’re studying abroad.
- Send letters – getting letters from a friend or family member when you’re studying abroad is one of the best surprises. In this digital age, the fact that someone took the time to write a letter is everything.
Gifts For Someone About To Study Abroad
There is nothing better than receiving a thoughtful pre-departure gift, whether it’s practical or personal. Here are some ideas…
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One of my most cherished souvenirs from my study abroad time is the journal that I kept during my semester in Poland. There are so many new memories to write down when you’re abroad, and journaling helps make sense of it all. There is nothing better than receiving a brand new journal to fill its pages with your adventures.
Buy journal on Amazon here
One of the things that I always recommend for a gift to a traveler is the universal adapters that can fit any outlet around the world. It’s also tiny and can be thrown into your bag without being bulky. Plus you can never have too many adapters when you’re abroad.
Buy universal adapter on Amazon here
The one thing that I wish I had when studying abroad is packing cubes (also I notoriously overpacked), but let’s just say inside my suitcase was a hot mess. These packing cubes have since then kept my suitcase easily organized and have saved me a lot of time from trying to find that one shirt that has disappeared into the black hole that is my suitcase.
Buy packing cubes on Amazon here