Getting the Best Non-Academic Experience While Studying Abroad

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Looking back on my days of studying abroad, I would say that the most that I gained during my study was the things I learned out of school. Make this straight, I’m not trying to underestimate the importance of choosing a good school and performing good at school. However, there is much more than what was taught in the classroom which I found more valuable for me. In this article, I will write a couple of non-academic things you may want to seek while studying abroad (I’m limiting it to 2 items so you will not get bored reading this).

 

A diverse student background

Since you are in a different country, normally you would make friends mostly with people from that particular country. This will influence you in many ways such as culture, way of life, point of views in many particular issues, and a sense of how things works which is different from how it works in Indonesia. This would be useful for you and you could bring your experience and best practices to be implemented back home.

However, making friends with friends from other countries could expand you horizon even more. From my experience, as an example, dealing with public service in the US was a great experience. We use to think that being a civil servant is a relatively more stable and less demanding job compared to those in the private sector. However, I was stunned when I talked to a Japanese friend (a civil servant) who said that she regularly leaves office at 1AM on a regular work days which was normal for Japanese civil servant. Yet a Greek friend told me that the government has too many employees so many of them spent their days in the office by reading newspapers (no wonder they are in an economic crisis today).

Your time studying abroad is a great opportunity to establish great network with friends around the world. For that purpose, you would want to see the diversity of the students when choosing a school or program. It would be better for you to know people from 40 nations rather than just hanging around with friends from a few nations.

 

Travel and explore

One reason to go abroad is to travel and explore new places. Being a student abroad provides the best opportunity to travel because students usually have more free time and longer holiday periods compared to working man. So take full advantage of this opportunity to have fun and explore new places.

However, since its also an opportunity to learn, utilize these travel times by seeing, experiencing, and observing how things works in the new place, what is better or worse compared to back home, and stimulate your brain on what could be done better back home with all its challenges.

As for my case, traveling around Mexico City provides me an insight that a GDP per capita of $10,000 does not necessarily make streets free from street vendors (pedagang asongan); the ease of access to alcoholic beverages in Japan (no age verification) does not translate to high alcohol violence; or even the significant reduction in gasoline price when you cross border from New York City to New Jersey shows how the State of New Jersey is luring travelers to buy gasoline in New Jersey to create jobs in the state (New Jersey is the only state outside Oregon which mandates gas station to have an attendant filling your gasoline/bans self service gas station).

When it comes to choosing a school, maybe you would want to consider the ease of travel and the size of the country before choosing your study destination. In this case, having a Schengen student visa enable you to visit 26 countries in continental Europe (this is a huge advantage for universities in Continental Europe). While in the United States, the country itself is very huge which enables you to explore many things without crossing the country border (however, you could still visit Mexico just by having a US Visa). In that case, maybe you would reconsider being stuck in a country where your traveling capabilities is limited due the fact that you have to obtain a visa to visit the surrounding countries.

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts Uniersity, where the author studied.

Conclusion

Without underestimating the importance of knowledge studied in the classroom, there are more than academics for you to learn when you study abroad. In some cases, people find these experiences even more valuable that what was studied in the classroom itself.

As for my study experience, the most that I value during my study abroad was that I got an opportunity to broaden my views and open myself to what is done outside of my country. During this time, I got a better sense on what is running well and not so well about Indonesia from an outsider’s perspective.  I also gain some insights and knowledge on what could be done differently to put our country in a better position in the future.

Photo credit: Mattes and Daderot on Wikimedia Commons.

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Rumi Djalil
Rumi Djalil holds a Bachelor of Law from University of Indonesia and a Master of International Business from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (Medford, MA, USA). He has various professional experience in multiple industries. Currently he resides in Jakarta.