I’ve Studied Abroad 3 Times & I’ve Learned Nothing

Provided by ellieejay

My first international class in Guatemala, followed by a semester in
London, then a semester in Granada… and what do I have to say for myself?
I’ve learned nothing.

Contrary to popular belief and folktales told by previous students who have
studied internationally, living abroad for 5 months does not make you a
world expert or even a world traveler. Needless to say, I’m not an
exception either by living abroad for a year now.

Nearing the end of my time in Spain, I have come to understand the world is
and isn’t. It’s huge in the sense that there is a place for everything.
It’s small in the sense that I’ve run into people from my small high school
in Burlington, Illinois at a hostel in Bucharest, Romania. It’s beautiful,
but there are also ugly parts as well. It’s hard to describe the world as
one word without the contrary of that word being true as well. For example,
you can say the world is always changing, but then again the sun will
always come up, people will always need food, shelter and water, and we
pretty much all just want to be happy. The world is and isn’t.

Studying in a country where I barely knew the language when I first arrived
taught me to be prepared for anything. More importantly, it taught me that
you don’t always need to know the plan in order to function. Many times in
life we enter situations with a set plan for everything which helps us be
efficient and maximize our outtake. However, when it falls through we have
no back up plan and we’re left scrambling for ideas. It’s a great exercise
to practice entering situations with no plans, no strategy, just an open
mind.

The reason I say I’ve learned nothing is as follows: To say you have
learned something implies you have finished the act. Living abroad has
opened up how massive the world is and how much there is I don’t know.
Telling you about what I have learned is easy- nothing. I have learned
nothing but I am learning little pieces about everything. The main thing
college taught me is how learning is a life long-process. While I am
nostalgic I’ve graduated college, the best part is that I learned that
learning never has to end.

Humility translates. When my fellow classmates return home and act like
they know all about the country they studied in for a few months,
everything about the countries they visited for one weekend, everything
about international travel and living abroad – that is the exact opposite
thing they should’ve taken away. Not even Einstein would say he knew
everything about physics. When people ask you about your time abroad
approach it with humility and honesty. Share your personal stories and urge
them to create stories of their own. This is the reason I became a study
abroad ambassador- to share nothing but my truth and get other students to
experience the world as I did in their own way.

Overall, I’ve taken away every single experience is what you make of it.
Life will serve you hard times, but you will learn the best lessons about
yourself during these moments. What you put in is what you get out. I’ve
cultivated a mindset uniquely my own in which I will carry with me for the
rest of my life and share with as many others as possible. Namaste!

Originally posted on ellieejay’s blog


41 thoughts on “I’ve Studied Abroad 3 Times & I’ve Learned Nothing

  1. I think to say that you have learned nothing is hugely inaccurate. Your statement that ‘To say you have learned something implies you have finished the act.’ does no such thing. If as a child you couldn’t tie your shoelaces and then after practising and trying again and again, you could, then you have learned a skill. Your own stay in Spain will have given you a wonderful insight into the language, culture and history. You are of course quite right that learning continues throughout your life, as the Irish poet W B Yeats said ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’. Intellectual curiosity is a wonderful thing and despite your statement, you have learned a lot about the people you worked with, the area in which you lived, the world view of a country and of course how you react and accommodate your own views within all of those things.

    Give yourself a break, acknowledge the wonderful opportunities that you’ve had and enjoy the journey! We grow, we change and all our interactions influence and help those transformations.

    1. I love the quote you provided about how education is the lighting of a fire. It’s similar to how I used my piece to portray that learning is a continuous process, thus my choice of the past tense word “learned” in the title. I have learned nothing, but am learning about everything – hence my use of the gerund. The difference you brought up depends on the subject, whereas you mentioned a tying a shoelace as a skill; however I am talking about your mindset in this piece, which never has a finish point. Thanks for the read!

      1. Learning is like breathing: you can’t avoid it, as long as you’re embracing Life.
        You may not feel the same quality or reward in your many learning opportunities…which is to be expected. We’re all in the ‘sifting’ process of what’s helpful and what’s not. ‘What’s not’ experiences can still represent learning and growth .

      1. humble and humility- studying abroad isn’t about knowing it all but opening so many more avenues to knowledge. Looking forward to readying more blogs.

  2. Yes….. the more I travel, the more I realize how much I still have to learn !! Thanks for sharing your insights.

  3. Love it!! I enjoyed reading this article and understanding the takeaways you have received from studying abroad. This read leaves me wanting to read more about what you have learned and experienced from your travels. Great Work!

    1. Thank you for your support! I’m glad you enjoyed it and hopefully sparked some interest for you to experience other cultures and mindsets through travel as well!

  4. I’m enjoying your openness to post and discuss and refine. Beginning of great discussions in the comments!

    1. Thank you for your continued support Dr. Lanier. Guatemala was the first trip that sparked so many new interests and dreams in me and I have you to thank for that! If there are any students hesitant to study abroad send them my way, either my blog or website or even email. I remember the exact video you showed me my freshman year that made me wonder how I could ever live up to that type of trip or even lifestyle. Wishing you and our Barton Family a very merry holiday season!

  5. I like your post for its honesty and humility. I agree we are lifelong learners and kudos to you for accepting that. I do wonder about the need to tell others about what takeaways they should/should not have :-). It all starts and ends with us, no? :-). Best wishes to you on your journey.

    1. Thanks for your insight and adding to the discussion. You are indeed correct, telling others about the takeaways they should or shouldn’t have defeats the true purpose of learning. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. It’s up to yourself and yourself only to extract your own unique takeaways – that’s what makes life so extravagant. Best wishes to you as well!

  6. Thanks for your insight and adding to the discussion. You are indeed correct, telling others about the takeaways they should or shouldn’t have defeats the true purpose of learning. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. It’s up to yourself and yourself only to extract your own unique takeaways – that’s what makes life so extravagant. Best wishes to you as well!

  7. As a person who is still studying abroad, I agree that we learn something from everything. But there are several things I definitely learnt: I learnt to be more open-minded because now I know that there are many ways of living. I also learnt that people are similar everywhere. But I also learnt that differences can be important to understand. At least, we get a grasp of general concepts.

    1. Yes you have learned many things and the best part of that is that is a continuous process! There’s always more to learn. Thanks for reading and for your insightful comment.

  8. I can absolutely relate to your words here. In some way, the more you travel and live in various countries, the less it sometimes seems that you know about the world at large. Great read!

    1. Yes definitely agree with you on that. The more you know it can start to seem like the less you know, but that’s the beauty of it! Life would be pretty boring otherwise.

  9. I was triggered by the title, how can you say you learn Nothing abroad ? what a waste of time…then I read what you wrote, and yes it does make sense learning is a long life process, and we never stop learning, and if we do, well, that is really sad and pointless.However, even recognising this fact means you learn Something, right ? 😉 Te deseo un feliz año nuevo y te deseo todo el mejor ^^

  10. One of the hallmarks of a smart person is one who realizes how much one does NOT know. We should never be embarrassed to ask questions. We can’t possibly know everything. I know there’s one thing I don’t know. LOL

  11. I understand what you mean when you say you learned nothing. Knowing how much one doesn’t know can make that person feel like they know practically nothing. It’s true. If we learned all we could during our lifetimes every waking moment, we would have an infinitesimal part of the smallest fraction of all there is to know.

  12. Loved that passage : “When my fellow classmates return home and act like
    they know all about the country they studied in for a few months,
    everything about the countries they visited for one weekend, everything
    about international travel and living abroad – that is the exact opposite
    thing they should’ve taken away. ” Having lived abroad several times, I too often have seen people making general assumptions about how a country works based on their own limited experience and way of thinking. Great post!

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