Cultural Experience | Europe

What I Learned From My Semester Abroad

More educational than any class you’ll ever take

People always say that travel is the best education that you’ll ever get. They’re not wrong. Travelling opened my eyes up to a lot of things that I feel sheltered from by living in Canada. It also taught me a few life lessons through some unfortunate mistakes. Here are the top 5 things I’ve learned from my time abroad:

1. The world is smaller than you think- It may feel like you’re far away from home when you’re experiencing all of these neat destinations but you’re really not. This simple fact helped me get through some bouts of homesickness. I took a lot of comfort in the fact that if I ever needed my parents, I could hop on a plane and be home in hardly any time at all.

2. Respect for your own country- Travelling to places likes Bosnia, which have been hit so recently by war, showed me that conflict is real and it does exist. Seeing the bad tensions and poor relations still very prevalent in the Balkans made me realize how lucky I am to live in a country like Canada where I haven’t had to worry about some of the terrible things that places in the rest of the world have had to go through. While these countries have done a terrific job in restoration since the war, effects of such a horrible time are still very visible and probably will be for a long time. The impact it has had on its residents is tremendous, and the resiliency they have shown is undeniable. It really made me take some time to reflect on the politics of my country and be thankful that it is in the state that it is.

3. How to be independent– This sounds cliché but it’s so true. Travelling with my family, I was always so used to my parents being the ones to ask strangers for directions to the train station or being the ones to have already worked out how to get to the airport from our hotel. Travelling on my own meant that I had to be the one to approach people I didn’t know, who possibly didn’t even speak English, to figure out what I needed to do next. I also had to be the one responsible for my finances, which meant taking money out of ATMs, keeping track of how much cash I’d spent, and keeping an eye on my credit card bill and making sure to pay it off before it became past due.

4. The importance of learning a little bit of the language before you go- Not only will this help you get by a little bit easier in countries that don’t speak English, but it’s the polite thing to do. There were multiple instances where I felt ignorant and uneducated because I couldn’t even say please or thank you in the native languages of the countries I was in. I felt foolish assuming that everyone could speak English and a little bit too presumptuous when I would walk up to someone and say hello simply because I hadn’t taken the time to learn about the country that I was in.

5. You can’t always pull the tourist card– when I was in Prague, we had to take a tram and a bus to the airport. We thought that we could buy tickets either at the station or on the tram but neither of these were true. Once we realized our mistake, the only way to fix it would be to get off the tram and try to find a tobacco shop or subway station in which we could buy a ticket. This was dangerous because we didn’t have a lot of time before our plane and we didn’t want to risk missing our flight. So we rode both the tram and the bus hoping we wouldn’t get caught, and if we did, we figured we could pull the tourist card to get out of it, meaning we’d plea ignorance as our defence, being foreign and all. It didn’t work. Make sure you know the rules and regulations of transit systems in other countries, because law enforcement officers don’t look kindly upon oblivious tourists, and nor should they. As a tourist in another country, it is your responsibility to follow the rules and regulations of whichever country you are visiting.

Kearan Meagher

University of Calgary | 9 stories

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