An Unforgettable Experience

The period that I can describe as the absolute best time of my life and which I still benefit from is my college experience. Studying abroad in the United States is something I would always do again if I had the chance. It changed my whole perspective of life and gave me friends that I am still in touch with, although we haven’t seen each other for over four years. Every day I try to convince my childhood friends to experience what I did. I hope that what I am typing right now will encourage other people not to hesitate and get a new life-changing experience.

I studied abroad in the USA two times. It all started in mid-2015. I graduated from University in Amsterdam in Holland, at the age of 21. My English was okay. I could speak but didn’t have the confidence to make it sound natural, which I wanted to change. In combination with seeing the TV show ‘Blue Mountain State,’ I just knew that my next destination would be the United States of America.

As a 21-year-old who had always lived with his parents, I was a bit nervous. That’s normal when you are about to face a completely new experience. I planned to go to Santa Barbara, California, and do a language course on the School Kaplan, a language school attached to Santa Barbara City College. I didn’t know anyone who was attending that course at the time. The only information I had was from a friend who told me about her experience. She had a similar story as what I will explain right now, which took away all my doubts.

I booked a room at an apartment complex that is called La Brezza. La Brezza is a place filled with students from all over the world. A place where your neighbors become your friends and where it is impossible to be bored. 75% of the people who live there do the same as you: arriving alone in an unknown place to study abroad. You will never be alone, and that’s why I would recommend accommodation like that one.

The moment I was probably with the most nervous was the moment I arrived at my apartment. It is common to share your apartment with other students, which was an entirely new experience. I arrived at my place and met my first housemate, a Japanese guy who didn’t speak that much English but was always incredibly kind to me, which made me feel welcomed. Later that day, my other roommate arrived with 5 or 6 of his friends. All different nationalities, ages, and levels of English. They all had one thing in common: they were all studying abroad by themselves.

It made me overstep a significant boundary I had. I met people from all over the world. We visited places and partied together as if we had been friends for years. And after a while, I started realizing the world is way more extensive than the world I was used to. I had been on many holidays, but I had never experienced so many other cultures interacting like this before. 

In general, I think that Dutch people are quite secretive and a bit unopen to new people. Living in the States makes every person more open, which makes it easier to meet people. The whole world is interested in where you are from and is open to telling you the ins and outs of their culture. 

I stayed for three months in total, and my overall experience was terrific. The moment I went home, I felt much smarter and had a completely different way of life. I had got to know a ton of different cultures and learned a lot of things. I knew I wasn’t done with those kinds of experiences and would like to travel more. And since my first time studying abroad was perfect, I decided to go to the same place again: Santa Barbara, California.

After significantly improving my English in my first period in the USA, it would be better to take it to the next level. I wanted to improve my English, but I wanted to choose something that would benefit me even more in the future. I decided to go to Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) to do an International Business major. After completing the application without any problems, I booked my flight. I decided to choose to live in La Brezza again because I knew I would meet people quickly.

This experience was different. It was more serious. I went to a real school with real classes I had to attend. I had homework and even finals that I had to study for. This period of my life is by far the best one. Experiencing the American College Life is something Europeans commonly only see in movies. In my group of friends in Amsterdam, I am the only one lucky enough to say I have lived those movies.

Although I met many people the first time I was there, I met my best friends during this time. My best friends were my neighbors, who surrounded me every day. We partied, traveled, did a lot of fun, and learned a lot about each other’s cultures. As I said, this is still the best period of my life, and that is because of the people I’ve met.

Besides the fun stuff, I learned a lot more at that time. I was surrounded by Americans what made me improve my English a lot. I started my Spanish lessons and got to know Latinx people with who I am still in contact. I never stopped learning Spanish, and now I am fluent. Which I would never be if I wouldn’t have met those people from Latin America. 

Besides that, I took International Business classes, something I benefit from because now I am starting an online company that will operate worldwide. The curriculum showed me the ins and outs of all the processes and situations I can apply to my business. 

But the thing that benefits me the most in this new chapter is the number of friends I have worldwide. I made friends that I talk to more than some friends I know since my childhood. They are always willing to help me what makes me able to reach a lot more people. It taught me perfect English and made me start speaking Spanish. All the skills that I improved or received while studying abroad give me a much stronger position in the world.

The only negative part about studying abroad is the fact you have to leave at one point. Saying goodbye to my best friends wasn’t easy, and that never will be easy. But what I also learned is that the world is way smaller than it looks. I have met many of the people I met in the States in places all over the world. You will have tons of sites to stay at when you decide to travel to a particular country. The price you pay for studying abroad will eventually be worth it.

The online company that I started at www.myvideobuddy.com and @myvideobuddy will launch soon, and I know that if I hadn’t studied abroad, it would never be as good as it is now. As I said, I would recommend every single person to do the same as I did. It still benefits me in many ways, and I am thankful for that.

by Kelvin Tan

Why Studying Abroad is Always Worth It

Why bother? It’s a question I am often asked by friends and acquaintances about studying abroad. It is true that it can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive to embark on an academic journey far away from home, but every single person I have met who has taken the leap into the unknown abyss of studying abroad has found it to be one of the single best decisions he or she has ever made. There are three main reasons why I personally think it is worth going through the often rigorous application process and spending a significant amount of money for a study abroad stay.

The first reason is that Studying abroad will fundamentally change your outlook on the world. Although it sounds like a cliché, being exposed to a different culture in a host country together with people from all over the world will undoubtedly influence how you interact with people who from the offset appear different. Coming from a very homogenous country, studying abroad enlightened me that I could bond with people very different from me. The experiences also made me appreciate positive sides of the Danish welfare model I had not previously consciously thought of and it made me aware of cultural aspects of the Danish society I had also taken for granted. In essence, my study abroad trips have both enlightened me on foreign cultures and at the same time they have made more aware and appreciative of my own culture.

UC Berkeley campus

The second reason is that you will make friends for life. When studying abroad you will meet people who are all in the same boat as you, which makes it easy to bond. Back home it can be quite difficult to make new friends, but when you go abroad you most likely do not know anyone, which forces you to engage with other people. I have met some of my very best friends abroad and some of my best memories come from these trips.

Friends I made in college
Me among some friends I made in college

The third and final reason is that your appeal to employers will increase. Going abroad is an instant boost to your career! Apart from obtaining knowledge through courses, you also demonstrate independence and curiosity. Choosing to stray from the well-trodden path will automatically make you stand out to future employers. Furthermore, you will learn a lot about working in different cultural settings, which is valuable in international corporations, where cultural clashes are inevitable.

In summary I cannot recommend going abroad enough! It does not matter if it is for summer school, an exchange semester or a whole degree – just do it! Reach out to people who have done it previously, as they are often eager to help you out.

by Andreas Elkjaer