It’s coming up to a month since I returned to the United States after studying abroad in Croatia, and even though I was only there for three weeks, studying abroad was one of the best experiences of my academic career and even my life, to the point where I’d say it is essential for people to do. From career skills and development to just fun and excitement, studying abroad comes with so many benefits that it’s difficult to find an excuse not to go. Everyone’s experiences are different of course, but that is one of the best parts. Here’s a few things I learned, experienced, or realized on my trip:

 Time Moves Slower, Life Moves Faster

I spent three weeks in Croatia, three weeks that felt like six months. Almost every day was an adventure. Exploring Dubrovnik and finding all the cool areas hidden away in the cracks of the town, learning something new in class, climbing to the peak of yet another mountain with yet another spectacular view (we climbed a lot of mountains), spending a weekend at a hostel in another city 4 hours away, taking a bus through an entirely different country,  falling into a tourist trap, and possibly something more dangerous. Every day was an adventure.

In those three weeks I did way more than I did in a long time back in Rochester, back at RIT, back being stuck doing homework and studying with much of my time. It has really made it hard to go back to the “normal” routine.

We’re All Basically The Same

Sitting in a hotel room with 50mph winds and the first snowfall Dubrovnik has seen in over three decades happening outside (we were told it was going to be warm, guess not), I had another realization. Sitting on the floor playing UNO with not only other American students but students from Dubai, and hanging out, laughing, and talking with other Croatians, sometimes it was difficult to remember that I was halfway around the world, and that some of the people I was with are from even further away.

It’s pretty crazy that people from three very different places and cultures can get together and be friends (and everything that goes along with that) like we’ve known each other our whole lives, completely ignoring the fact that we grew up and live in very different places and environments. Also, everyone from around the world knows how to play UNO, apparently.

Nature Is Amazing, And We Need To Protect It

Climbing up multiple mountains, visiting Croatian national parks, spending the day on an island in uninhabited protected land, and even just walking around Dubrovnik and the areas around it, nature is everywhere. Much more than in U.S. cities, where people see two trees next to each other and they think they are in a forest.

At one point me and some other students were just walking around when we happened upon an unmarked walkway. After going through it we found ourselves on a set of rocks right on the water. We just sat there watching the waves smash into the rocks for a while. Later we found ourselves eating lunch atop one of the highest peaks on Mjlet Island, and drinking tea and coffee on a beach overlooking the sunset, next to an old war bunker slowly being taken back by nature.

Combine all these experiences with the fact that we were taking an ecology course (which turned into mostly a course on climate change, and a very inspiring one, thanks Staša) and the entire experience not only gave all of us a newfound appreciation of nature and the environment, but a newfound urgency  to protect it. With the environment and our planet coming under political attack recently, it’s something for everyone to think about (and do something about).

Explore, Explore, Explore

I don’t think I could spend another summer sitting home not doing much of anything ever again. Not that I had the option with co-ops and everything else, but the point still stands. Studying abroad gave me a huge distaste for sitting around all of the time, and a huge desire to get out and explore. Not even just other countries but also Rochester itself, a place I’ve lived for a year and a half but have seen less of than a place I went to for three weeks. Most of my best memories from Croatia were just walking around and seeing what we found. Even if you don’t study abroad, take the time to explore. You won’t regret it.

 A Different Idea of Education

Even though the program I was on was a bit atypical, being more focused on excursions and trips and less on traditional classwork and homework, which I’m sure some other study abroad programs use. But between my program and talking with local students there, it’s very apparent that they have a very different idea of education in Croatia. Aside from the financial differences, with higher education in Croatia costing just a small fraction of what it costs in the U.S. (even for the same exact degrees as we have here, from RIT Croatia), the way schoolwork is treated is different. Here, students are given piles and piles of work, are tested constantly, and are always stressed out.

In Croatia, and a lot of others places as well, students are still worked fairly well but not to the extent of, at the very least, us here at RIT, and they seem to be better for it and learn just as much. Even talking to students from RIT Dubai this seems to be the case, with them confirming that everything is much more relaxed there than here in  the U.S. Obviously pending further research, however the difference is there and it’s enough to make it hard to readjust to academic life here, and also enough to make you want to keep going abroad.

For The Career Driven

Beyond personal anecdotes of what I individually learned, experienced, and realized while I was abroad, studying abroad has an inherent and far-reaching positive impact on career development. Studying abroad shows that you’re willing to try new things, that you are culturally aware (very important for global careers and the global economy), that you’re willing to take initiative, that you can be flexible, handle difficult situations, manage stress, work well with ambiguity, appreciate diversity, learn quickly, and adapt to change. The list goes on.

Learning a language while abroad could also help immensely, depending on your career path of course. It might even make you more qualified to co-op abroad, showing that you can handle it and have the necessary skills to be successful in that situation. Again, the list goes on, and it is really what you make of the whole experience.

How To Get Started (And Why It’s Not As Expensive As You Think)

To go, it really is as easy as going online (to the RIT study abroad compass), finding a program, meeting with study abroad, filling out some forms and you’re set to travel across the world. The process is straightforward, and the amazing people at the study abroad office are always there to help.

If you’re worried about the cost, there are plentiful scholarship opportunities from internal RIT scholarships that you are automatically considered for when you apply, to this list of scholarships and fellowships listed on the study abroad website, to scholarships from your home department or college, and even ones from affiliate partners that you might want to do a program through, as well as national or international scholarship opportunities from outside organizations. More funding is available for summer and semester programs over spring break and intercession ones, but it is still there for the shorter programs. Semester programs might also be cheaper because oftentimes the cost is similar (or sometimes less than) the cost of attending RIT for a semester.

There’s a lot out there, and a lot of people to help you through it. There are not many excuses to not go, and I highly, highly, highly, recommend that everyone takes advantage of such an amazing opportunity that is offered to everyone so easily and openly right here at RIT.