Now before I get to talking about studying abroad, I thought it might be important for you to know about me so that you can see from where I’m coming. My name is Lucas Palonen and I’m a junior at the University of Alabama. I am studying Accounting with a Global Business specialization, with a double major in French Language and Literature, and a minor in Spanish. I am currently studying abroad in Bordeaux, France (as the website title Bama Bloggers Abroad might suggest). I was born in Northport, Alabama, and have lived in Birmingham, Nashville, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to moving around more than normal, my parents were born and raised in the European country of Finland, where the majority of my extended family lives. While I have grown up and lived in America my whole life, the majority of each of my summers was spent in Finland, as well as wherever we chose to travel to within Europe (you can imagine I caught the “travel bug” pretty early in life).
Sunrise in Finland
Seeing as how I am studying abroad, obviously one of my interests is traveling. I believe traveling can help widen ones viewpoint about the world and while the United States has many great places to see, something great happens when you venture out of your comfort zone and go somewhere where you don’t know anyone or speak the language. Something important about me is that I am a follower of Jesus Christ and everything I do surrounds my relationship with Him. In my life, Jesus comes first and everything else follows. My hobbies include music (playing instruments, listening to music, going to concerts, etc.), sports (both playing and watching… Roll Tide), and learning languages. Foreign languages and the cultures from which they come have always intrigued me. However, the person who really gave me the push to travel and dive into other cultures was my high school French teacher (thanks Mlle!). Even if you don’t share the same desire as I to travel, explore, and discover the world, I think you should give study abroad a chance, and here is why.
1) Everyone has a story
When traveling (especially with a college student’s budget), you get to meet many interesting people from around the world. As a college student, I have crashed on many couches and I’m no stranger to hostels. So far, just in Bordeaux, I have met people from Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Canada, China… this list could go on for a while. Each person to whom I have spoken has had some sort of story, background, or upbringing, that has affected the course of their life. I know that might sound like an obvious statement, but until we start to discover the stories and backgrounds of others, we can’t understand why they do things a certain way. Once you start to understand why people in other countries do what they do, you can start to see the viewpoints of others. The point is, if you stay in one country where you only see the viewpoint and way of life of one group of people, you limit your worldview to just one country. Seeing the world from someone else’s eyes can have lasting effects on many people. For example, look at the work of the famous blog, Humans of New York. One man decided to start a blog about the stories of people in one city, and that has now lead to many lives (both in New York, and countries around the world) being changed for the better. What would it look like if everyone in the United States would refuse to be complacent and start to broaden their minds? I think we would start to develop and become an even better country than we already are.
Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux
2) Traveling is good for your future
No matter what field of work you want to go into, travel can help you become better at your job. One thing that I have come to realize is that traveling (especially by yourself) can make you a better problem solver. When a problem arises, you learn to think “out-of-the-box” to find a solution. This quality is very helpful in any field of work and can set you apart from others in your field. In addition, when traveling with friends, you can learn what it’s like to accomplish something as a team, by using everyones ideas to come up with a solution together. These qualities are a few of many things you can learn simply from traveling more.
3) Traveling is fun!!
No matter what you learn and do while traveling, if you go to the right places, it can be fun! The world is full of amazing places, beautiful cities, breathtaking views, and so much more than you can find in one country.
In France? Visit the Louvre. Eat a Macaron. Go Shopping.
In Australia? Go surfing. Spend a day at the beach. Go snorkeling
In Italy? Have a pizza. Ride in a Gondola.
With a 30 minute internet search, you can find the most fun and even affordable activities in each country/city. You have to try really hard to not enjoy traveling because each country has something to offer that you have most likely not done before, so enjoy yourself!
Touring the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, Spain
4) The history
One thing I’ve come to realize about the United States is that compared to places like South America, Europe, and Asia, the U.S. is fairly young. Most buildings in the United States, even in major cities, are very modern while many European towns have streets and whole parts of cities that were made hundreds of years ago. The result of this is that in the United States, you rarely find places like a church built with gothic architecture from the 16th century, or a theater made out of limestone with a Greek architecture style. In France, for example, you can go to any small town and see buildings that are hundreds of years old and beautiful Château’s available for touring. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a service in a Lutheran church in Finland that was built in the 1400’s (shown below). These kinds of experiences and places are not as available to explore and learn about in the United States, and being a lover of history and old buildings (thanks dad) I can’t visit these types of places where I live in the U.S. This is just one example of the different kinds of things of which you can learn while traveling abroad.
Church in Hollola, Finland built in the 1400’s
5) Last but not least (and my favorite) THE FOOD
There are some foods that America does best. Some include burgers, southern barbecue, and Chipotle (I really miss Chipotle). However while there are some great places to eat in the United States, I have never tasted any kind of pizza that is better than an authentic Italian pizza, or a sausage better than in Finland (though I might be a little biased on this opinion). The world is full of interesting, delicious, and sometimes completely bizarre foods. One episode of watching Andrew Zimmern will prove this to be true. I will, however, warn you to make sure you know what you are ordering. For example, “Le Boeuf Tartare” in French means a dish of beef served raw, not beef with tartar sauce (unfortunately I’m speaking from experience). So while international foods can be great, make sure you find a place with English on the menu (assuming you don’t speak the local language).
Some Macarons, and Crème Brulée
Even if your major or sports get in the way of you studying abroad during college, I highly suggest you find a vacation in the future with a destination outside of the U.S. because it’s one of the most fun and exciting things you can do!
Finally I want to thank all of the readers for bearing with me through my first ever blog post. I hope you learned something and enjoyed reading.