5 Things I Learned During Study Abroad That Didn’t Occur in the Classroom

I’ve been back in Texas from my semester abroad in Sydney, Australia for almost a week now and some things have settled right back into place (like that sweet Texan accent), and others not so much…. I find myself still wanting to drive on the left side of the road, turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker, still operating on a 24-hour clock rather than 12, and still not accustomed to the Texas summer heat (I don’t know how I ever did it…). There are things I missed about Texas that I have happily indulged in since my return, such as my friends and family, BBQ, Whataburger, and sweet tea, but after only a week back at home, my heart is already yearning for that land down under. This is an emotion I’m sure many study abroad students find themselves experiencing after coming home. As I have had time to reflect on my 5 months living abroad, there are a couple valuable things I learned…that didn’t occur in the classroom. Here are just a few:

  1. You learn to appreciate other countries and cultures.

By nature, most of the people I hung out with and made friends with in Australia were other study abroad students. Before arriving in Sydney, I was looking forward to meeting Australians and spending time mostly with them. I did meet many wonderful Aussies who I will remain in contact with, but I also now have a network of great friends literally all over the world. During my semester in Sydney, both the Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup took place, so our melting pot of cultures got really competitive! (In the most fun and friendly way.) You pick up on little things, phrases, accents, languages, tendencies, etc. your friends from other countries do, and listen to what they have to say about their homeland. It makes you want to visit their country, also guaranteeing that you will be seeing them again in the future. I learned most about the Australian culture and ways of life since that’s where I was living, studying, and traveling for 5 months, but I also learned much from my other friends from Germany, Poland, Spain, England, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, France, Mexico, Chile, China, and Canada. Just by being abroad, you expose yourself to so many things that make you appreciate and admire other countries and cultures.

  1. You learn to appreciate your own country and culture.

Last summer, I studied abroad in Hong Kong with a McCombs summer program, so I had been away from the United States for a long (ish) amount of time before. Both last summer and this past semester abroad have made me appreciate the States so much more. We become so accustomed to a 24-hour lifestyle that does not exist in other countries, something I realize I took for granted. I had to get used to going to the store before 6pm when everything closed. There also aren’t 50 fast food places on one street to choose from; there are MAYBE 2. And there’s no Walmart. (What?! A land without Walmart??) Prices are sky high in Sydney, which definitely made me appreciate American prices more, and although Sydney has great cuisine, I missed good ol’ Tex Mex and BBQ. *Sidenote: An Aussie barbecue is nothing at all like an American barbecue. Sausage in a slice of bread won’t cut it in Texas.*

  1. You learn to not sweat the small things.

Being abroad makes you realize that a lot of what you thought matters in life, actually doesn’t. You find that happiness comes from your experiences, your travels, the people around you, good food, and things you can’t buy. It doesn’t come from your clothes, vehicle, name brand purses, your last name, who you know, or even your grades. I spent three days and nights camping in a sleeping bag under the Milky Way in the center of Australia in freezing temperatures, and that was one of my absolute favorite things I did my entire 5 months there. I scuba dove the Great Barrier Reef in Australia’s winter in super choppy waters and still had the time of my life. For both trips, I had everything I needed in one backpack. No nice clothes, no make-up – hardly anything – and those were two of my most treasured experiences and unforgettable moments of my life. I can’t tell you how many times I missed a bus last semester (although not always my fault, because Sydney has an awful public transport system), been late to things I would’ve hated being late to in America, and changed my plans last minute…and guess what? It didn’t matter. The Aussies are easygoing and live at a relaxed pace. There’s a thing or two we could learn from them, starting with three little words. Say it with me now: “No worries, mate.”                  Speaking of public transportation, that brings me to my next point….

  1. You learn how to navigate a public transportation system, perhaps for one of the largest cities in the world.

Nothing makes you grow up faster than moving out of the country and starting a life somewhere completely new (even if just for a semester). Facing challenges such as opening a bank account, finding a phone service, and especially learning a new public transport system, all on your own teaches you so much. No one is going to do it for you, but there are a lot of people there to help you. As I said, I’ve missed a bus (or train) many times, taken the WRONG bus, and got lost in the city more than once. But by the middle of my semester, I knew which buses went where, what time certain buses stopped running, which type of bus ticket I needed, etc. It came with experience, and from making mistakes. But it was always an adventure, and I know it’s the same for anyone in a new, big city. McCombs has exchange program affiliates in so many countries across the world! Go get lost in one. It undoubtedly can get aggravating, but it’s an adventure all the while.

  1. The fifth and final thing I learned outside of the classroom during study abroad is that most of the learning during study abroad does happen outside of the classroom. It’s meant to.

I learned history, art, music, global studies, economics, physics, foreign language, business skills, government, architecture and more, all during my exchange, all outside of the classroom. I would even venture to say that I learned more valuable information and lessons this past semester abroad than I have during any of my previous five semesters of college. People who study abroad don’t typically go for the actual classes they’ll be taking or the university they’ll be attending; they go for the experience. And the vast number of things you learn along the way is both astounding and natural, and I can guarantee that rather than learning them and forgetting them next semester, they are things you’ll remember for a lifetime.


So wherever you go and whatever you do, remember that life is a beautiful journey. Not all your most important learning in life happens inside a classroom. And whenever you’re out there in this big world, remember to “just keep swimming,” and everything will be (as the Aussies say) “sweet as.”

Contributor Ashley McAdams



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