CultureEducation

Studying abroad was the absolute best decision I made in college. The idea popped into my head during my third year, and I headed for England just four months later. At 21 years old, I packed my bags and sat alone at the airport, excited and scared of what I (sort of) impulsively got myself into. I went to the University of Worcester in England for the Spring 2011 semester, where I stayed in a dorm with other international students. At the time, I thought the best part of it all was the absolute freedom to travel.

Flash-forward to almost five years later, I look back and realize that my experiences shaped exactly who and where I am today. It wasn’t just about the places I visited or the pictures I took; it was about growing up and learning from my mistakes. Here are three life lessons I learned from studying abroad, and reasons why I will always be grateful to have gone.

Ride the wave. You can try to plan and strategize everything you do, but often times, it won’t work out that way. We hear this all the time but it’s hard to conceptualize it until you’re out of college and living in the real world. When I was traveling abroad, there were flights I missed, things I forgot to pack, and money that I lost – and it all felt like the worst thing ever. I went nuts trying to figure my way out around problems, but ultimately I learned to be more flexible, innovative, and adaptive with my solutions. In your personal and professional life, many unexpected things happen and it makes no difference whether you can control them or not. It’s important to be willing to adapt to a new company, boss, or change the relationships you’re in and the career you are set on having. While it’s good to have a blueprint the next ten years, the truth is that good luck happens just as much as bad luck. Just keep moving forward.

You are a little freckle on the face of the earth. We always get told that everyone’s different and we shouldn’t judge anyone. But exposing yourself to different cultures makes you realize that your judgments and assumptions of others are only based on social standards that you grew up with. Whether they were instilled by your parents or friends, it’s all you know. Traveling and interacting with people that are totally different allows you to understand that the ideals you’ve been taught are not the only ones that exist – and you may not agree with them. What you always thought was “right” perhaps isn’t. Once you truly internalize what all of that means, the more you’ll be able to think for yourself. Opening your mind to the reality that people, many people, exist outside your bubble (your friends/town/country), the better you’ll be at accepting others despite your opinions of them. This characteristic is not only crucial to your personal development, but in your professional growth as well. No matter what industry you’re in, you’ll be exposed to people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s not a matter of knowing everything about them, but a matter of having a respect for their differences.

Everything has a deadline. When you’re young, it’s easy to feel invincible and think everything lasts forever. This is because the transition between grammar school, high school, and college aren’t really that drastic; they all consist of classrooms, textbooks, summer vacations – the list goes on. You go through the motions with your friends and it seems like your 30th birthday is literally never going to happen. When I headed home from the U.K., I realized how quickly life passes by. One week I was at the Cliffs of Moher, the next I was camping out for Will and Kate’s royal wedding, and then suddenly I was just sitting on my couch watching TV in New Jersey. Now, at 26 years old, I can’t even process the fact that my early twenties are gone. Though it’s common to want to fast-forward to a future event (whether it’s graduating or turning 21), it’s important to stop and appreciate the here and now. One day, you might be wishing you were right where you are at this moment.

As someone who is all about making mistakes and experiencing things on my own, I am the first to say that reading about life lessons isn’t even close to learning them. But if there’s anything I hope people will gain by reading this, it’s to look for something to take a chance on while there’s time (and to obviously study abroad if you can). It’s not just about making new memories, it’s about changing yourself for the better, too.

Image: Flickr

Skills

Since I was small, I dreamed of how thrilling it would be to live in my own little chic apartment in a city. Along with a miniature black labradoodle ironically named Cochon (means “pig” in French), I would have a true Carrie a la ‘Sex in the City’ lifestyle. Today, some of those things are true – I live on my own, I’ve decorated an apartment to my liking, and my urban home is indeed quaint (the adorable dog and fabulous shoe collection are still a work in progress). Leaning slightly more on the introverted side of the personality scale, I deeply enjoy living alone. But I won’t deny there have been a few challenging moments I didn’t anticipate. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far on my journey:

1. How far from home are you really?

About a month into being in my apartment, I realized all my dishes were organized the same way as in my childhood home – plates to the left of the stove and glasses on the shelf above. It was almost comical noticing I’d adopted my father’s extreme neatness and mother’s particular ways of taking care of the house. Who knew everything would come full circle?

2. You are now the bug-killer, toilet-fixer, and furniture-assembler.

All the terrifying and annoying things you would typically ask your dad, a male friend, or a roommate to do become your job. Aside from bug-killing, which admittedly challenged my entire existence, I am proud to say I’ve turned into quite the handy-woman. Don’t worry, it all gets easier with practice.

3. Being yourself, in all your weirdness, never felt so good.

Want to eat waffles for three nights straight without anyone judging you? Go for it. Feel like spending 4 hours watching old episodes of ‘Hey Arnold’? Sure, you can. Living by yourself provides the freedom to do what you want on your own time. It doesn’t get much better than that.

4. “Responsible” becomes your middle name.

When you are living alone, you only have yourself to depend on, so you think about everything. For example, you regularly check your mail because there are no longer roommates to do it for you. You take care of your plants and even remember to water them extra when you go out of town. It’s the little things that make you feel like a real adult.

5. You learn about yourself.

Out of everything living alone has taught me, this point is most valuable. Many of us are used to college or other environments where we are constantly surrounded by people. Living alone has given me the opportunity to figure out what works for me in terms of a daily routine that allows me to be productive, relaxed, and focused.

Living by myself was something I have always wanted to challenge myself with. So far, it has been such a rewarding experience. For those considering making the same decision, I say, go for it. You won’t know until you try!

Image: Flickr

LearnSkills

I recently just wrapped up my very last class in an 8-week series of Tango classes. For many years, I have always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. I saw the movie Shall We Dance? and was in awe by how fun dancing looked. I am in no way graceful or coordinated, so I knew taking any kind of dance class would be challenging. I did some research, found an 8-week Tango class, and decided to go for it.

I ended up loving every minute of it, and even though I was correct in that it would be a challenge, I loved putting myself out there to learn a new skill. I can now Tango, and even though I am still at a beginner’s level, I am better than I was eight weeks ago. In addition to learning the steps and how to position my arms, I learned a lot about myself in this class series. There are aspects to dancing that are similar to life, and I made the connections as I was (awkwardly) gliding across the dance floor.

These are the 9 things I learned from Tango class:

1. The power of repetition.

At the beginning of every class, we would do exercises back and forth across the dance floor. Even though it got repetitive, the point was to take the next step better than the previous step. Dancing is all about getting the steps down, and through practice and repetition, the steps become part of your muscle memory. Through this repetition, my feet and body started to understand the way the dance was performed. After just two classes, I held my arms up in a different way than the very first class without thinking twice. As you do things over and over with intention, you get better at them.

2. Get in the zone and focus.

When you are dancing with your partner, it is important to be in the moment. The second your mind starts to wander, toes are stepped on and the entire rhythm is thrown off. When you are dancing, or working on a project or task, give it your 100% attention so you can do it well.

3. Embarrass yourself, and then laugh about it.

Staring at yourself dancing in front of a mirror that covers an entire wall is not easy, especially when you don’t actually know how to dance. When you’re just starting out, you are going to look silly sometimes, and you are going to make mistakes. When you feel embarrassed or bad about it, just look around you. Everyone else there is learning how to dance, as well. You are all in the same boat. Laugh it off, and move on. This applies to most things in life, not just dancing. Whether it’s public speaking, a sports game, or something you are learning by yourself, just know that when you can laugh at yourself if you make a mistake, you have already succeeded.

4. Learn from your mistakes.

Okay, so you embarrassed yourself and messed up on a step. Say sorry to your dance partner for stepping on his or her toe, and learn from the mistake. Focus, figure out what you could have done better, and then don’t make the mistake again. It feels so great when you get a complicated step right.

5. Quick-quick-slow.

There are a couple of steps in tango that require a quick-quick-slow rhythm. This means that you step quickly twice, and then take the third step slowly. Then repeat. As I was learning how to do the “media luna,” where you move around your dance partner in a quick-quick-slow circle, stepping forwards and backwards, I couldn’t help but think about how much it resembled my life at the time. A lot of things happened all at once, and then all of a sudden everything slowed down. Sure enough, the next week my life was back to being quick-quick, and then slow. Things will get hectic, busy, and overwhelming, but if you stick with it and keep moving forward, your life will calm down and you can breathe again.

6. Use feedback to your advantage.

When I was making mistakes with my footwork or body positioning, my teachers would identify what I was doing wrong and help me fix it. They are there to help me become a better dancer and to learn the proper way of dancing the Tango, so why would I get annoyed with their feedback? Use feedback to your advantage and excel.

7. Stay on your toes.

Not physically, but metaphorically speaking. There are routine steps that you will learn in dance, but every now and then, your dance partner will switch up a move just to keep you on your toes. It’s when you get too comfortable and your mind starts drifting that you will mess up the last-minute switch. Just as in life, get into a rhythm and routine that works for you, but every now and then, switch things up to keep life fresh. Stay on your toes and improvise.

8. Learn how to follow.

As someone who works hard to be a leader, it isn’t always easy to be a follower. When I Tango, I am the follower. I take directions from my dance partner, who is the Lead. At first this was difficult, and I would be pushing and pulling to try and move in the direction I wanted to go. However, when it comes to Tango, I had to learn how to trust my leader and follow his steps and direction. While the two dance partners are a team, one person takes more control of the situation. When I finally learned how to follow my Lead, we would be gliding across the dance floor. It was a pretty cool feeling.

9. Step outside the comfort zone.

None of these lessons would have been learned if I hadn’t stepped outside of my comfort zone in the first place. I signed up for these Tango classes without a friend or dance partner. I embarrassed myself in front of strangers, had no one to laugh about it with except myself, and I can honestly say it was awesome. These Tango classes were something that I did for myself, to follow through on my interest, and to learn a new skill that I’ve wanted to experience for the longest time. If you want to learn how to do something or if there’s a class you want to take but you can’t find anyone to go or do it with you, just do it by yourself! When you don’t have the distraction of a friend, you really can focus on personal growth and learning more about yourself.

CultureEducationTravel

CHOOSING THE DESTINATION

With over 190 countries in the world and 50 states in America alone, how do you figure out where to travel to? How do you narrow down the choices let alone choose just one?

Although we live in a globalized world with phenomenally quick modes of transportation and travel guides in every language, the bottom line is that physical convenience does not equal financial accessibility. Traveling is still a very costly activity and must therefore be considered carefully. When it comes to spending, even the smallest details of a trip can make the difference – check out our tips for traveling on a budget.

Ultimately the biggest question still comes down to where you will be going and then building your plans around that decision. I have compiled the most useful information that helped me decide to travel when I had one week available to me this previous November while I was studying abroad in Denmark.

1)   Here at Carpe, we suggest that you aim high! Get a pen and paper out and write down all the places you want to go. Consider characteristics of places you would enjoy exploring. Maybe you want to visit somewhere with historical landmarks or sandy beaches. Perhaps you want to experience what sleeping in an igloo is like! Whatever strikes your fancy write it down! Follow the steps below to sort out what your most realistic options are. I knew that I wanted to go somewhere with a lot of museums and was accessible by public transportation. Those two key factors helped me narrow down my search to London and Paris.

2)   How will you be traveling? Consider the way you will be traveling and what you’re realistically able to afford and physically handle. If you live in the United States but and want to visit Australia, keep in mind that that trip is over 24 hours worth of flying. Don’t be afraid to look locally and consider what is just under your nose! Although I toyed with the idea of going to Turkey or even South America, ultimately I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford those plane tickets and that one week would not be enough time to explore any surrounding areas.

3)   How much time do you have? Are you taking a short getaway weekend trip or will this be an all-out excursion? Figure out how many days and nights you have, and don’t forget to factor in travel time and potential jet-lag. A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to China to see family, but I did not realize that the time difference would cause me to be so tired! It took me about three days on each end of the trip to properly adjust to the new time zone. If you are doing a short trip I would suggest not going too far out of the same time zone, or you will lose exploration time to sleep.

4)   Consider your age. This may sound like an odd step, but take a second to think about your age in relation to the place you want to visit; if you are thinking about going to Las Vegas but are only fifteen, explore some other options and figure out how you can get the most experience out of your trip. If you have a very touristy city like New York on your list, keep in mind that because those are in metropolitan areas and therefore more handicap accessible, they might be better options for when you are older. Take advantage of the extra energy you have when you are younger and go somewhere that you can utilize that physical capability. On my independent trip, I got around almost entirely by walking and taking the metro. It was necessary for me to have the energy for multiple days of walking, but because of the solid infrastructure I could have taken cabs if necessary.

5)   Are you traveling in a group or independently? In our first Travel Series post we outline the importance of safety. It’s critical to take into account safety aspects whether you are in a group or alone. If you have never traveled alone before but are choosing to for the next adventure, consider going somewhere that is safe for a young person who is new to traveling. It also helps to visit somewhere that you know someone. When I travelled to London and Paris by myself I asked my friends via Facebook if they were also in those cities. It turned out that I have more than a few friends in both places who I was able to meet up with and explore the city with! If you are in a larger group maybe go somewhere more adventurous – you will have more people to keep on eye on the surroundings and belongings, and to help take care of each other.

Wherever you choose to go, I hope you have an awesome time! Traveling is a wonderful privilege and I hope some of this advice helps you narrow down your next travel destination!

Where are you going next? Let us know!