Before trips like this, I like to give myself overarching goals that I want to accomplish while I’m away, or at least set a direction for myself in what the trip is for. Going to Korea in the summer, my main goal was to become comfortable with traveling by myself, which included being able to handle travel logistics as well as being okay with spending time alone exploring new places.
With that goal satisfyingly accomplished, during this trip to China I wanted to focus more specifically on academics and making linguistic improvement. One small tangible goal encompassed by this was to find and buy a book in Chinese that I could read for leisure without much difficulty. To my delight, I bought a few books at the airport with my remaining cash, and found that I was actually able to read and enjoy them!
Choosing a program with such an emphasis on academics as the IES Abroad Beijing program, in which we had to learn 30-50 new words a day for our daily quizzes, really did require a lot more perseverance and motivation to study than I had needed before, really ever. At the beginning of the program, I was so focused on doing well and becoming as fluent as possible that I spent several hours a day studying. I wasn’t satisfied until I knew every single new vocabulary word in and out.
After a while, however, I realized that learning and growing doesn’t all happen in the classroom, or in my room studying. I decided to make a new goal, to learn how to balance achieving the academic progress I desired while still purposely making time for hanging out with friends and experiencing new places.
Despite now spending less time studying and focusing much less on completely memorizing every single vocabulary word, I didn’t make any less progress and kept my grades up as well. In fact I may have been learning even more, because having fun and exploring outside of class actually allowed me to encounter the words I learned in real world situations.
In addition to achieving the original goals I had set as well as the new goals I set along the way, I also have gained other unexpected developments as well. For example, living out of one suitcase (albeit a giant one) for four months, I have become very unattached to material things and appearance. It’s surprisingly freeing to only have a few outfits to choose from.
What a cliché study abroad conclusion to come to, but truly, I have come to realize that the important things in my life are only the people I care about and becoming a better version of myself every single day.