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Lessons I Learned While Studying Abroad

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Thailand for a two-week long study abroad program through Loop Abroad. I went with a small group of K-State students, but we were mixed with students from all over the country. We spent one week in the city of Chiang Mai learning about small animal medicine and completing spay and neuter procedures. We spent the second week of our trip at Elephant Nature Park, where we learned about elephant medicine and wildlife conservation. I learned many important lessons about veterinary medicine and conservation while in Thailand, but studying abroad taught me some invaluable life lessons as well. Here are my top three:

  1. It’s okay to branch out.

I am an introverted individual, so the thought of studying abroad with strangers scared me away from even applying to any programs. Going on this trip with students from my university was one of the main reasons I felt comfortable enough to apply. Little did I know, however, that I would make lasting friendships with the very strangers I feared. From the start of the trip, I had planned to stick with my K-State friends and was not expecting to connect very strongly with any of the other students from the other universities. Inevitably, though, I started talking to some other girls and even chose to room with four of them for the second week of the trip at Elephant Nature Park. Those four girls are now some of my closest friends; we still talk consistently despite living in different states, and we are even planning to meet up over winter break. Making such strong bonds with those strangers taught me that I do not need to be scared to branch out of my safe little bubble.

2. It’s important to try new things.

Being in a new country, there were obviously a multitude of new customs and foods to experience. This can be very overwhelming to someone who has spent most of their life in one country. It can be very tempting to shy away from all the new things being thrown at you at the same time, but I learned that the best way to deal with this change is to face it head on. This was especially true in terms of food. Thai food is very different from American food. Their entrees, street foods, and snacks differ greatly from what we know. At first I was hesitant to try these new things, but after embracing the culture and foods surrounding me I ended up loving the country as a whole and wanting to educate others about this new culture. I even developed some new favorite foods that I would have never tried before this trip. After some reflection, I realized that if I had not told myself to try so many new things, my trip would not have been nearly as fulfilling.

3. Some people are more adventurous than others.

When considering a trip abroad, most people would expect to be immersed into a new culture and are most excited for that very aspect of the experience. Personally, I know that experiencing Thai culture and cuisine was one of the things I looked forward to the most, and I assumed the other students on the trip would feel the same way. During the trip, I learned that that was simply not the case. Some girls were hesitant to eat Thai food and were most content when we visited American restaurants and lived off American snacks. Some girls did not understand or appreciate the Thai cultures and customs (but still respected them). At first, these attitudes bothered me. I found myself impatient with their seemingly closed-minded attitudes. I had assumed that in studying abroad, everyone on the trip would be eager to immerse themselves into this new world, but I learned that not everyone is so ready to dive head first into situations like that, and that is completely okay.

Studying abroad comes with many challenges and can be very overwhelming at times. Going into the experience with no prior knowledge of what to expect was challenging, but it allowed me to make the most out of my trip without trying to make it fit the mold of what others had told me. This trip taught me many life lessons that will carry over into my everyday life as well. Hopefully they can help others that may be considering studying abroad as well.

In sisterhood,

Erin Cocjin

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