Get outta here: why you should study abroad

By Nathan Baumgartner

Opinion Contributor

During our time here at Canisius, we have requirements we have to complete which vary on the basis of major. Some students must complete various internships, while others don’t. As a triple-major in German, International Relations, and European Studies, one requirement of mine stands out to me: not only do I have to study abroad, but I must do so in Europe, and in a German-speaking country, nonetheless! Though this technically remains a requirement of mine, the innate desire to study abroad in a longer timeframe exists regardless of my major. The thought of exploring foreign places, getting to meet different kinds of people, and seeing a different way of life speaks to me more than any major requirement does, which is why I chose to study abroad at the Technical University of Dortmund this semester and have only started to begin my adventures in what seems to already be a good decision and experience so far!

            Despite some who refute the notion that studying abroad is indeed a good experience, do not let anyone tell you that what I said is pure fiction. Studying abroad is the greatest thing that has happened to me besides being born. Though I have only been in Dortmund for less than a week, I have already learned more German than I have the past twenty years of my life. Heck, there have been quite a few students in Dortmund who have mistaken me as a German, asking me for directions in broken German and then only realizing that I am not German when I ask them if they speak English in my not-so-attractive US-American accent. I have no idea why, but I already have begun to fit in and acclimate myself to the new social life here in Dortmund. From what I have seen, my fellow students who are studying abroad elsewhere are doing the same, and to me that is an amazing feat which Canisius can boast.

            However, don’t just study abroad because you must fulfill a requirement. Do it because you want to. Of course, I do not recommend that you study abroad if you remain stubbornly steadfast in your habits which you have developed in the United States. Things are different abroad, whether in Canada, Peru, or Germany, and that is just the way things are. Though I cannot accurately give an indication as to how things are elsewhere, in Europe, the portion sizes tend to be smaller because many people rely on public transportation to do everyday tasks such as shopping and commuting to and from work. If you cannot live without your car – and you know that that will not change abroad – then do not go abroad for an extended timeframe. Many – if not, all – Europeans tend to regard using automobiles as only a necessity when other modes of transportation do not work. In Dortmund, I am very fortunate to have a nice system of buses, streetcars, and even a subway and monorail! Other bigger cities tend to be blessed in a similar sense, but public transportation in Europe is extremely efficient and so much better than anything you will find this side of the 716. If you do go study abroad, use this to your advantage!

            Perhaps the most important factor one should take into consideration before studying abroad is the language barrier. Many people throughout Europe speak English, which certainly does make things better as we live in a predominantly English-speaking country. But not everyone does, and I have already run into situations where someone did not know English, and as I am writing this, I am ending my first day in Dortmund.

If you do not know the language of where you want to study abroad, be open to learning. I am studying abroad with another student from Canisius this semester, Caitlin Orgek, and we both have hit the ground running in terms of how much German we already know and how much German we have begun to learn. Our fellow international students have not always been so lucky in the beginning, some coming here with virtually no knowledge of the German language, but everyone here seems so open and friendly to the idea of learning another language.

IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE, DO NOT STUDY ABROAD IN A COUNTRY WHERE ENGLISH IS NOT THE FIRST LANGUAGE.

Am I saying that you must be perfect in German or Italian or whatever language may be spoken primarily where you want to study abroad? Of course not! You just need to be open to the idea of learning that language! If you do not begin to learn another language, or just simply have no desire to do so, maybe you shouldn’t venture beyond London, Galway, Glasgow, or the Sunshine Coast. If that sounds rude of me, then it’s rude; I personally find it unreasonable that people go abroad without any intent of learning a language whatsoever, as it is an important part of the local culture wherever you study. Not learning another language puts you at a higher risk for being targeted as a foreigner. Unfortunately, not everything with study abroad is sunshine and rainbows, and I think that holds especially true for US-American students abroad with the results of our election and the image our current President has unfortunately casted upon us.

Though I have not fielded as many questions as I thought I would regarding my views of our election and our current President – when people here find out that I study European Studies, they seem to ask me about the upcoming Dutch parliamentary and French presidential elections – I still have received some questions regarding them. Especially in these interesting times, anticipate such questions. They do not mean that people think that you support our President, necessarily. They’re asking questions and showing a genuine interest in the world around them, and you should do the same thing abroad!

           Studying abroad, for me, has been a perfect opportunity so far, and not only am I meeting my expectations but am also surpassing them. There’s only so much anticipation and excitement I could’ve generated from getting emails from TU Dortmund and hearing things from faculty and fellow students from Canisius. Being here has been infinitely better in that sense. It also has been so nice to see how negative stereotypes of people abroad are baseless: Germans sometimes have a reputation for being blunt and almost melancholy, but I have seen more Germans laugh around with each other – as well as talk about people behind their backs – than I have US-Americans here.

But all in all, perhaps the most important lesson is that I’ve learned to view my curiosity about things not as a curse, but as an asset. When I came to the Dortmund Main Station, I was greeted by two Dortmund Doubles who have both been extremely helpful when it comes to answering questions and knowing a lot about the city, offering to take me places to buy supplies such as IKEA – and if you know me, you know IKEA is one of my favorite stores – and they even have a Staples and Toys R Us here, which I thought was kind of cool, almost a little slice of the United States an ocean away from home.

           Are you ready to learn about other cultures? Are you ready to make a couple mistakes here and there? Are you ready to pick yourself up and shake it all off? Get ready, get set, get outta here!

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