Reflections on Shanghai – A Year LaterShanghai, Fall 2009

I always believe that everything happens for a reason, whether the results are good or bad. Although the two experiences are different, the same conclusion can reached by both outcomes. For example, some students go abroad and have the most amazing time in their lives; they get to travel, meet new people, and immerse themselves in their host culture. There are other students who are constantly homesick and react negatively toward their host country. Does that mean that some students should study abroad and others should not? After having studying abroad myself, I would argue that although it may not seem as if the two groups could reach the same educational experiences, if both groups (especially the second) spent time to reflect, they would appreciate the invaluable opportunity and learning experiences they had abroad. I often found myself teetering between enjoying my time abroad and homesickness. Although I much rather not have experienced the latter emotion, it was during those unpleasant times that I learned more about myself. Being put outside one’s comfort zone is not an easy thing for anyone. We enjoy familiarity and resist change to the status quo; like a safety blanket, our comfort zone shelters us. But study abroad breaks us from this shelter and forces a student abroad to experience new perspectives, whether he or she wants to or not. And it is better to break outside the box because this awareness often brings much needed change, like a greater understanding and appreciation for cultural differences. Through study abroad, I was also able to participate in the educational melting pot, in which there is an exchange of ideas between cultures. The Chinese were as interested in the American culture as I was in the Chinese culture. Thus, we were able to discuss and share our worlds with each other. For example, I learned about the Chinese work ethic and mentality. Because there is such a strong emphasis on family and honor, the Chinese people work hard in school to get a job to support their family. In comparison, Americans primarily tend to seek a job for their individual welfare. I value the Chinese strong focus on family and began to incorporate family-style meals when I returned from study abroad. Usually, my family and I would eat our dinner with the television playing in the background. However, after my study abroad, I wanted to develop our relationships more than focus on other distractions. Furthermore, study abroad is valuable for its job opportunities. With my internship abroad, I received a sense of what the Chinese work environment would be like if I decided to work internationally. This trend continues to grow as countries become more and more interdependent. Having this job opportunity allowed me to network with others, explore career options, and become more marketable to potential employers. Despite being pushed outside my comfort zone and forced to examine other perspectives, I have come back from my study abroad experience a changed person. Although I went through highs and lows during my semester abroad, I was able to learn from both the good and the bad. Thus, even if a person did not have the “time of their life” abroad, there are still plenty of things to reflect on that would make his or her time abroad an educational experience to remember.
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