Since I was a kid, I loved learning foreign languages and I was fascinated by the possibility to travel and see places, people and cultures different from what I knew from home. Despite growing up in a very small town, I was lucky to have a chance to participate in youth exchange for the first time already when I was in primary school. Later, in my university years, I participated in Erasmus+ student exchange twice, I worked with exchange students in the International Relations Office of my own university and was an active volunteer of the Erasmus Student Network. Now, I am in Zagreb as an European Solidarity Corps volunteer in Krugovi. Why? Well, of course, all of this brought me a lot of fun but it also proved to be a wonderful learning experience and gave me much more than just pleasure.
In this article, I want to share with you some more and less obvious ways in which I believe everyone can benefit from international experiences.
Broadening your perspective
International experiences naturally face us with a lot of new things – from foreign cultures, traditions, habits, language and food to new approaches to work or studying, different forms of social interactions etc. By getting out of our comfort zones we can gain a better understanding of the world and other people. This leads to greater empathy, being able to notice and comprehend matters we haven’t before. It holds a value on its own but in addition it can, for example, boost creativity and allow us to see new solutions to problems. It can also help you find a new passion or a new path to choose for the future.
Improving your language/communication skills
Even if we don’t actively learn a new language, by going abroad or simply having contact with people from other countries, we surely put our communication skills to a test. The need to interact with people who speak a different language to ours or perhaps speak a language we know (like English) but on a different level than us, forces us to be more cautious and creative about the way we communicate. It can also be a reminder how much we can actually accomplish with a smile!
Increasing your employability
All the experiences and skills gained through international involvement should not be left unnoticed by the employers. They can appreciate the usually higher than average communication skills and cultural sensitivity of those with international experience. The sole fact that a person has some form of international experience can also be a sign that they have some desirable traits like for example: adaptability, independence, open mind, willingness to go out of their comfort zone and develop themself. Having that can also open doors for career opportunities outside of your own country.
Learning more about your own culture
Nothing makes you understand your own culture better than trying to explain it to somebody else! Through presenting and comparing the ways of life we get a chance to look closer at the details of our cultural background and deepen our knowledge about it. Who knows, maybe we can even develop a new appreciation for our culture as a result!
Having friends around the world
I think it’s really wonderful that coming from a regular small Polish town, I could meet people from various European countries and places as distant as Canada, Mexico or China and become friends with them! Having international contacts, we can learn and share pieces of each other’s cultures we wouldn’t have a chance to know otherwise. Potentially, we also gain life-long friends that we can later visit all around the world!
I hope I convinced you that international experiences are simply worth it! I know right now is not a good time in the world for travelling and getting those. However, you still can (and should) consider them as an element of your future. And until the better times come – stay safe!