The Best Lessons You Learn Abroad are the Ones You Learn from Friends

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By: Jill Robins | Arabic Language and North African Studies & College Year in Athens            

Maybe it’s cheesy, but I like to live my life by the motto “every person you meet in life will teach you something, so long as you’re open to learn.” Nowhere is this more true than on a study abroad program. Whether it be meeting local students, neighbors, a host family, or even other American students on your program, you are guaranteed an opportunity to meet people who have a different perspective of the world than you when you commit to learning outside of the United States for a period of time.

Before my first study abroad experience, a summer in Morocco, I lived inside a comfortable bubble that I didn’t realize existed. By the end of the program, two people in particular ended up having a huge impact on me. One was actually an Emory student. She and I had taken introductory Arabic together, but both of us were too shy to really meet until we arrived on campus in Morocco. I credit our friendship to our time abroad together. From our late night conversations and shared experiences, I feel that my world view really began to develop. One of our program leaders was equally impactful. A Moroccan native, his perspective truly introduced me to how those outside of the United States view America and Americans.

View from the hostel rooftop when my friends and I visited Chefchaouen, Morocco

My experience with College Year in Athens (CYA) in Greece was different, but nonetheless introduced me to close friends and incredible people I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. A large part of why I wanted to study abroad in Greece was so I could learn from and engage with the large refugee community in Athens. Through a volunteer position as an English teacher, I had the opportunity to get to know two teenage refugees from Egypt. Despite the language barrier, we connected over cultural exchange and laughed while accidentally mispronouncing words in the others’ language. The most touching moment for me was when one of my students received a call from his girlfriend in Egypt and was eager for me to answer the phone and meet her. Their goofiness and love for learning continues to inspire me even long after I’ve left Greece.

Building I passed on my way to teach English in Athens, Greece

Studying abroad has undoubtedly introduced me to people and perspectives unlike the ones I regularly engage with on a daily basis at Emory. I’ve been lucky to learn and develop my own beliefs and life outlook from every small interaction, long-lasting friendship, and everything in between. Whether your program is all Americans or all natives of your host country, you’re bound to benefit from the people around you as you share experiences and anecdotes. My study abroad friends became truly unique families to me, and I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. Yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s true.