Letter to the Editor: Studying abroad

Contact CU Independent guest writer Jeremy Sjodahl-Brainard at jeremyesb@gmail.com

We often think that America is so culturally vast that moving to a different state or befriending a different group of people can amount to a cultural epiphany. For many, their entrance to university is the first time they experience such variety in worldview. My first culture shock was when I joined the military fresh out of high school.

Even though I never left the country, I still dealt with perspectives rare or even non-existent in the small farming town I grew up in. But experiences such as these are only the tip of the iceberg; an understanding of a culture we already know but just haven’t experienced completely. This is nothing like stepping off a plane into a country you’ve only experienced in books.

When I first arrived in Japan as a study abroad student, it didn’t feel as if I was on the other side of the Earth. It felt as if I was in a twilight zone; a world where things were the same but somehow different. Even though I could read some signs, most were incomprehensible to me. The conversations around me were perplexing, even if I could catch a phrase from time to time.

I understood why and how things were different, but experiencing the change was an adaptation I was not prepared for. I was used to understanding everything I read and heard, but I had to think differently here. I had to learn to navigate and adapt without my usual guidance of language and culture. I was lost and it was exciting.

Even though I had studied Japanese language, culture and history for years before I finally went to study in Japan, what I knew about Japan came as second-hand knowledge. It was instantly obvious that this book-based education, even at the highest level, only allowed a limited understanding of things.

Though I address this in the context of traveling to a place that I have personally studied, the same idea remains true when simply understanding the world. While the Earth is less than a speck of existence in the expanse of the universe, it is nonetheless of a massive scale that holds everything ever known of human existence. Understanding this world is vital for every field of study and every field of work from business to academia. To understand is to prevail.

What you can gain from this changed perspective of the world is unlimited. We always learn from new experiences, but when everything you do is part of a learning curve, you will obtain much more. Travel in general lets you try new foods, have new conversations and see new things. But study abroad lets you take that to a whole new level. You are taught new things in new ways which can expand your ability to learn and develop.

Your worldview will be put to the test to bring about a better understanding of not only yourself, but also of the expansive number of other ideas that exist. It can be a challenge and at times, a shock, but it will certainly lead to some of the best experiences in your academic and personal life.

Though some people find study abroad to be terrifying or unobtainable, and though immersing yourself in a new culture can be uncomfortable and difficult at times, the most difficult things are also the most rewarding. The experience of seeing the world from a new perspective and through new eyes is an education far beyond what a book or class could ever give. Most importantly, the people you meet and things you will see–those things and people far different and far more unique than what you are likely to find at home–await you.

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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