I come from Puerto Rico, a small island in the Caribbean where change is slow and people embrace their comfort zone. I chose to study abroad with ISEP because I was looking for an exchange experience in a place wildly different from my home. While searching for a study abroad program, I looked at the map and zoomed in on a region not many consider for study abroad: the Middle East.
Studying abroad can be scary. For many, that same fear locks their mind to a particular destination for various reasons, whether because it is popular or they already know someone there. While it’s good to venture anywhere, not having a specific destination in mind can enhance your study abroad experience. Being flexible with your study abroad search opens your possibilities and dramatically broadens your opportunities for growth.
Studying abroad in a non-traditional location…
1. Increases your adaptability tenfold.
Speaking no Arabic but with a thirst for adventure, I applied to the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in the United Arab Emirates. Luckily, the language of instruction was English, the university has all the U.S. accreditation I needed for my classes to transfer and on-campus housing was available. Adapting to Arab culture can be challenging at times, especially for someone who has never been exposed to it, but facing these challenges and embracing the differences is where your adaptability muscle gets the best workout.
2. Exposes you to unforeseen adventures.
The only thing I had heard about the U.A.E. was Dubai (“the city of the future”) and Abu Dhabi (the setting for the movie Sex and the City 2). Living in the emirate of Sharjah is like living in another country because it is considered the cultural capital of Islam. Here, the International Exchange Office (IXO) of AUS takes exchange students to museums, cultural centers, mosques and souks (local markets). You can choose to adventure locally or travel to neighboring countries, just be ready for a wild ride with unpredictable surprises. It’s safe and not as scary as it sounds, I promise.
3. Educates others about where you come from.
While at AUS, many people have asked, “Puerto Rico? Where is that? They speak Spanish?” As the first undergraduate student from Puerto Rico to come on an exchange to AUS, I have taken this as an opportunity for others to experience my culture and get a sense of what my little island in the Caribbean is like. Puerto Rico is so much more than the beach. Traveling to non-traditional destinations almost guarantees that you can be the face that puts your home town, state or even country on the map for each person you encounter. How cool is that?
4. Breaks stereotypes and unconscious biases.
Throughout the world, many people judge others before really educating themselves or walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Break the stereotypes and live the experiences for yourself. Stop saying, “I heard that…” and start saying “I lived that…” or “I experienced it for myself.”
Seeing is believing, and study abroad is the key to do this! Immersion is the best way to educate yourself about someone else’s life, and will help you understand the world and be a more informed, compassionate person. Craft your own study abroad adventure, your wanderlust and future-self will thank you.
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