5 Things I Learned Studying Abroad in Europe

By: Madeline Ahlberg

1. Don't take life too seriously 

After spending a long time in Europe, within a culture different from the US, being so far from home has helped me gain a new valuable perspective. I am able to reevaluate situations and challenges in my life with a different outlook. When you step back and reflect, it's easier to see how big the world is in comparison to significantly smaller problems in life. I found that the constriction of my hometown made it too easy to overlook all the things in the world that deserve so much more attention.

2. Not everything goes as planned

I quickly discovered that there would be some unexpected challenges while living abroad. Within my initial three days in Spain, my phone broke which had me disconnected from everything I was familiar with. Although my orientation week happened to be much different from that of my friends, I realized how adversity is often what leads to personal growth. Navigating through these challenges not only taught me to have resilience and patience, but also showed me that there is beauty in embracing unpredictability. It made me realize the unexpected is what makes moments in our life unique.

3. Everyone is a human being 

One of the most impactful moments I had during my experiences studying abroad—was the understanding that: we are all fundamentally human. Visiting Morocco, in particular, there was a large contrast in socioeconomic status compared to what I usually see in America, or even in Europe as well. The reality of the challenges faced by the local populations made me feel so much more empathy and compassion. Being physically present in a place really is different from the protective bubble that distance can create, when things are ‘out of sight out of mind’. For me it was truly a reminder that, despite geographical differences, we share a common humanity. The contrast between our privileges and the daily struggles of others serves as a reminder to be compassionate and grateful. 

4. No one really knows what they are doing 

The universal truth is that nobody has it all figured out. Like many of my friends abroad, I struggled with the anxieties about moving to Spain without familiar faces, navigating solo travel, and finding my way in a foreign country. However I realized that all the uncertainty, and the fear, were so very common. The illusion of being entirely "ready" for such experiences is impossible. I found that everyone is constantly in a state of growth and learning. There is no such thing as perfection, because that's what it means to be authentically human. Whether it's your first time abroad or you travel a lot, the journey is a continuous process of adaptation. Life is a significant lesson in resilience, adaptability, and patience in the unknown.

5. Everything will be okay 

Feeling a bit worried about studying abroad is a common experience, and strong emotions can sometimes make challenges appear hard to overcome. However, I always tell myself how important it is to remember that those feelings are only temporary. As cliche as it is, just as all good things come to an end, all bad things will as well. During my study abroad experience in Spain, I got my first tattoo that says “todo estará bien," a spanish sentiment that translates to "everything will be okay." This tattoo holds significance to me, encapsulating the reassurance throughout my life, but has also become a guiding principle throughout my study abroad journey.