As an international student studying in the United States, I never really thought about theprospect of studying abroad. Why study abroad when I am already abroad? Moreover, I already had the experience of how challenging it is to familiarize oneself with a foreign culture. Especially in the summer, you do not have that much time to get used to the campus and the city you are studying in. However, being a double major entering her third year, I wanted to be able to spend my semesters on my home campus. Hence, summer was the perfect time for me to study abroad.
Choosing Jerusalem as a place to study abroad was- in the first place- unintentional. I was at first looking at a program in Jordan but there was no consular representation back in my home country so regarding the logistical problem, I ended up choosing Jerusalem.
Moreover, I wanted to explore outside of my South East Asian heritage and the IFSA
program in Jerusalem allowed me to do just that. Moreover, IFSA’s financial aid
tremendously helped in realizing a goal to study in a Middle Eastern country. With that said, I decided to do a summer program in Jerusalem and have learned tremendously. I have put together 5 reasons why you (international student or not) should consider doing a summer program abroad.
1. You get to meet different types of people.
You always pass by people on campus but ask yourself this question, have I talked to all of them? The answer apparently is No. You will also not be talking to everyone while on a summer program, but you will have to learn to interact with different types of people. These will include students just like you as well as local students. This means interacting with different social cultures and of course, there will be some trial and error in getting acquainted with people but in my experience, both the local and summer program students are more than willing to talk, interact and mostly, help you when you need a hand.
2. You will become more independent.
Since a summer program usually means a short amount of time- one or two months- you are naturally forced to handle things on your own. This may include navigating transportation, food and daily necessities. This will allow you to explore the place on your own! On my way to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, I took the bus in the opposite direction and it took me over an hour to figure out the right bus line! Yet, it gave me the chance to get to know Jerusalem a little better and the people living there. Such situations maybe a little daunting at first but you grow through them and, learn to appreciate such moments. Growing as not only a student but also as a person is the essence of studying abroad.
3. Your learning will take place outside of class most of the time.
There is also a lot of learning that takes place in class but being in a new surrounding and interacting with people is where you will learn the most. This means you will learn more about the local culture and people. When you go to restaurants, cafes or even on the bus, you will find that on most days, there are always people who are willing to talk to you and share their experiences with someone visiting their city. In one case, I have met a psychologist who is currently running a juice stand in South Tel- Aviv. It is from these incidents that you learn about the people and about how making a single decision- such as studying abroad- can take your life in a completely different direction.
4. You will gain better communication and networking skills.
This is a very important set of skills that is usually overlooked by most people. By being on a study abroad program, you must communicate with people from all walks of life- students and locals alike. Being in a surrounding where you have little choice but to interact has opened me up. Studying abroad makes you more open minded and be more accepting of intercultural dialogue- which is important for the world we live in right now.
5. It is going to be a lot of fun.
Many students, like myself, study abroad because it also gives you the opportunity to have new experiences in a foreign place! My most memorable experience were walking around the Old City after Shabbat and spending the weekend in Tel Aviv by the beach with my friends: doing things you enjoy is important, especially when you are in a new environment. I am not going to lie that it is physically and emotionally arduous to adapt in a new place, being an international student myself. At the end of the day, it is truly worth it, despite the hardships you will face.
Htet Thadar Aung is a Government and Religion double major at Smith College and studied abroad with IFSA at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Jerusalem, Isreal in the summer of 2018.