Wrapping it all up: A Reflection on my Study Abroad Experiences
Post by Kate Mowles, Class of 2013
For me, studying abroad was about having experiences that I could not have at Babson. Even with a very diverse student body, nothing matches actually diving fully into another culture. I wanted to learn more about the world we live in because I was never really exposed to diversity growing up. But I never expected to end up in Asia or Africa. I have now been to both continents twice. While we’re told when we return not to just wrap all of our experiences up and stick it on a shelf (figuratively or literally), I’m now going to attempt to fully yet concisely reflect on my incredible experiences.
- I learned that people really are not all that different. No matter where I went there were parts of the local culture that people were intensely proud about (rugby in South Africa, K-Pop in Korea, etc). Each culture also had its own struggles. People were, in general, welcoming. Sometimes it took a little more for them to open up, or to cross cultural barriers, but I think this goes back to the cultural pride. People were generally excited to share their culture.
- I learned to be patient. This was probably one of Dean Hanno’s favorite things to remind us of in Ghana. It really is applicable in a lot of situations though. There were many moments in my international experiences when there were communication barriers that had to be breached. These issues were solved much more smoothly with a level head than with panicking. In South Africa I learned a new concept of time: saying you’ll be somewhere “now” means you’ll leave home pretty soon. Then there’s just-now and now-now on top of that. At the end of the day, all I could do in many situations was just take a deep breath and try to relax; I only had so much control over what was going on and I just had to let go of the rest.
- I learned how to communicate interculturally. Sometimes this meant communicating with gestures, especially in Korea where I had to learn the writing system. Sometimes, it was learning slang. Quite often there were miscommunication issues (pronounce a word slightly wrong and you accidently insult someone instead of asking where the bathroom is…yikes!). Then there are differences in physical gestures that are appropriate, ranging from who can take a drink first to declaring you’re in mourning based on where you leave your chopsticks.
Cultural mishaps abound, but I somehow managed to survive my study abroad experiences. Would I say I’m a changed person? Not really. But I have gained a deeper understanding of and greater appreciation for other cultures. The experiences I have had are truly unforgettable. I have made friends from all over the world. The lessons I’ve learned along the way will stay with me forever. I have been inspired and touched in more ways than I could ever really tell. But I’m still me. I think that’s the important part. These experiences don’t define me, I define my experiences.
I graduated in May with a double concentration in Accounting and Global & Regional Studies. I will jump straight into my Masters in Accounting before starting a job in the fall. My first Babson Abroad experience was the elective abroad, Social Responsibility in Malaysia. After that I spent a semester in Stellenbosch, South Africa, a semester in Seoul, South Korea, and then finished my abroad experiences with the elective abroad in Sekondi, Ghana. I also managed to do some other travel while I was abroad, hitting a total of seven new countries.