If I had to do it all over again, I would make an extra effort to remember…
1. Listen to your body. Yes, you should maximize your experience and fit in as much as you can. But no, you should not go out for a night on the town if you can’t keep your eyes open and your head is bobbing. You should not go into that pizza/pasta carb coma if you’ve been thinking for the past couple of days how you could really use a salad to feel less groggy. You should not be drinking alcohol if you’re feeling dehydrated. Get enough sleep, eat enough nutrients, and drink enough water. If you’re thinking that you’re getting a cold, go to the pharmacy with the interns and take a nap in your apartment instead of participating in service with children that day. The better you feel, the more fun all of your adventures will be. Know when it’s time to take a break. Traveling can be mentally and physically exhausting, so take care of yourself.
2. Over-documentation is not a waste of time. Yes, you should know when to put down the camera and enjoy things with your own eyes — of course. But no, you should never feel guilty for taking a million pictures, writing a million journal entries, and publishing a million blog posts. Post that second Instagram of the day — who cares? The thoughts and feelings you will gain from these experiences will slip away from you as time goes on, and the best way to relive them and remember them is to look through all of your documented memories. You will look back a year later by yourself, 20 years later with your children, 50 years later with your grandchildren. Cherish these moments because they are invaluable. The future of their memory is in your power.
3. Feel grateful every day. You are abroad because someone sent you abroad. Whomever that someone is, thank them for providing you with this precious opportunity. You get to wake up every day with the knowledge that, today, you’ll cross something off of your bucket list — an entire program designed to help you achieve your dreams is your current reality. Appreciate this to the fullest — you don’t get to stay on this program every day for the rest of your life. It’s a beautiful 2 or 5-week dreamworld. Enjoy every single adventure that this program has for you. Wake up, smile, and thank someone. This is the best way to start your day.
4. It’s ok to be nervous. You walked off the plane and into the airport. You can’t find your bag, you don’t know any of the other students, you don’t speak Italian. Complete panic. IT’S OK. Everyone is nervous about something; you are not alone. These nerves are healthy — they mean you’ve taken a risk and stepped out of your comfort zone. You’ve taken on a challenge to conquer something, and by the end of the program, what was once uncomfortable will be comfortable. Veni Vidi Vici. Mission accomplished.
5. Vulnerability will be the difference between a good trip and a great trip. The more you open up about yourself, the better people will get to know the real you, and the deeper your new friendships will become. Don’t hold back; don’t be afraid to be entirely yourself. If you present yourself in surface-level ways, you will only build surface-level friendships. Lay it all out on the table, and you will be amazed at the depth of the relationships that you build abroad. Put yourself out there.
6. Practice listening. On a program with over 100 people who start out as strangers, you’re going to be doing a lot of listening. People will share their life stories, their experiences, their values, and their goals to the class. You’ll be expected to listen. People will encourage you to put down your cellphone at the dinner table and tune into the person speaking. You’ll be expected to listen. People will give you detailed instructions about the day’s events. You’ll be expected to listen. Now is a good time to practice listening: attentive, intentional listening. Were you really listening, or were you just hearing? Give others the attention that you would want them to give to you.
7. This is the type of school that you want to take seriously. You might put off that English paper, decide you’re going to skip marketing, or choose not to study for biology. When studying abroad, it doesn’t work that way. Immerse yourself into this unique opportunity you’ve been given. Listen to Nelson Mandela’s fellow prisoner tell you stories while you’re standing in the prison cell on Robben Island. Practice the Italian that you’re learning in your language class by discontinuing to order your food in English. Read your Blue Book assignment about the Acropolis while standing in it. Think of it as a field trip every single day for weeks. In the leadership and citizenship discussions, participate to the fullest. You’ll come away from the program with a greater understanding of your personal leadership style, strengths, values, and life-callings. Don’t think of this school as “school.” Think of it as soul-searching and exploring.
8. Live in the moment. See number 2. Yes, I advised you to take a ton of pictures, and I stand by that. But this is a balance — Stop staring at your GoPro while you’re bungee jumping, it’s recording, I promise. Instead, stare at the beauty below you and feel the peace. If you’re enjoying a gorgeous Camps Bay sunset and you’ve snapped 10 pictures of the same sky already, that’s enough. Put the camera down, and look at the sky with your own two eyes. Feel the heat on your skin and the sand on your feet. Hear the waves crash. Be present in this moment enough to evaluate it through all of your senses. Tune out of the other stuff, and tune into this stuff. Know when it’s time to work on this balance. These moments when we’re truly present are the most meaningful.
9. Be aware of your surroundings. Just like in any city, when studying abroad, you should be extra cautious about what is around you. Hold your purse to your body. Be smart enough to know which alleyway doesn’t look the most inviting. Get the hint that the American phrase you keep using is not being understood. Pick up on social and cultural cues, and practice good safety habits. There’s no better time to become more aware of our surroundings than in a foreign country.
10. This is the perfect time to become the best version of yourself. In all that you’re learning, growing, changing, and building, you’re reevaluating who you are and who you want to be. Take this time as a personal challenge to be the absolute best version of yourself that you can be: maximizing your strengths, improving your weaknesses, going after opportunities, and staying true to your values. The better you do this abroad, the more likely you are to stay that same person when returning home. That is the ultimate goal — the trip may be temporary, but the self-discoveries will last forever.
-Anna and the Go Global team