Travelling abroad, whether it be for a study exchange, a volunteer opportunity with AIESEC or simply to explore somewhere new, will always expose you to new experiences. However, beyond the pure joy of travelling somewhere new, you also develop certain life skills that you will be able to take with you and apply in your future academic life or professional career. From my experience living and studying overseas, there are five key skills that have changed the way I see the world and how I face and overcome challenges.
If you are an outgoing person you may not think this is a skill you need to develop. I’m here to tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong. Communication isn’t only having the confidence in yourself to speak up and interact with people but it’s also learning to listen and converse effectively with others from different cultures and backgrounds. While travelling, you are bound to meet new people and learning to get to know them and build good relationships is a life skill that you will take with you once you return from your exchange experience. From my experience in Indonesia I learned that sometimes being loud and outgoing doesn’t always express excitement and can sometimes be intimidating so it’s important to pick up on these experiences. If you are not an outgoing person then you will also develop this skill eventually, but travel could be the push you need to step outside your comfort zone and start a conversation with someone you don’t know.
Travelling is an experience that either requires a certain amount of forward thinking and planning or an ability to quickly adapt and make choices on the go, but if you’re lucky it will be a bit of both. However, both of these approaches to travel require you to be independent in your choices and actions and take responsibility for your own adventure. From my travel experiences I can tell you that plans are sometimes going to fail, but you can’t let that stand in the way of you enjoying yourself. If you are resilient, being able to learn and work independently is a trait that is valued by employers and will be incredibly useful when completing university assessment tasks.
It’s easy to say that you understand the difference between your home culture and the different societies of the world and you may learn about these differences at school or university. However, travelling and seeing this difference first hand while constantly comparing this to your own personal experience will broaden your mind and allow you to return home with a greater perspective that you will be able to use in your work and personal life. This perspective can also assist other skills such as cross-cultural competency and communication.
Experiencing other cultures and languages and meeting new people in an environment vastly different to your own forces you to be open-minded. The development of this trait will make you easily adaptable meaning you can fit into any conversation or task and tackle new challenges much easier than some other people. While living in Bali I learned to make subtle adjustments depending on who I was speaking to and the context of the conversation, to ensure that the other person felt as comfortable as possible. These adjustments were, for example, making or not making eye contact depending on culture and background, speaking slower and in a calmer tone for those not as confident in speaking the English language and trying wherever I could to mix in my understanding of Bahasa Indonesia into the conversation when appropriate. This open-mindedness can allow you to see things through the lens of someone who may be from a different culture or at least allow you to be prepared to listen and learn about someone else’s point of view.
Finally, one of the most valuable skills you can learn from travelling abroad is innovation. Travelling isn’t easy. You don’t always have what you need when you need it and things don’t always go to plan. Exposing yourself to a problem-solving scenario in an environment where you may not speak the local language or even know how much your money is worth ensures you are always thinking outside the box. In addition, seeing a country and culture vastly different to your own shows you how things can be done differently and that what is “normal” really depends on perspective and background. After your travel experience you may return home and see something in your own country that could be done differently. The ability to innovate and re-imagine is a skill highly sought after by employers and in academia.
In a nutshell, travelling isn’t only a leisure activity to help you de-stress from your work or studies. In fact, it can actually be rather challenging at times. However, it’s important to remember that while you’re enjoying yourself and chasing these new experiences you are also developing skills you can bring back and use in your daily life. When reflecting on your journey try to think beyond what you did, and think about what you learned.