Before graduating from the University of Michigan, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. The only problem was that I didn’t want to do this by myself. Committing to a study abroad trip was intimidating to me because although I’ve been to a couple of different states, I’ve never been to a completely different country and I never thought about doing something like this before college. The great part about this trip was that I was able to study abroad with a group of 13 people, not counting myself, who were my classmates for a whole semester through a University of Michigan program offered by the Center for Global and International Studies (CGIS). My class focused on the environmental history of Japan and while there, we spent time learning and exploring different sites that held/hold environmental significance to Japan mainly around Tokyo. We also had some down time to explore the city. With some of my classmates, I visited Akihabara and played the infamous pachinko machines, went to one of Tokyo’s fashion districts, Shibuya, and visited Edo Castle in Chiyoda.
I had a lot of fun experiencing Tokyo with my classmates but one thing that I noticed was that within the group of 13, people formed smaller groups and tended to stick with them. I’m not writing this to reprimand anyone because I was one of them. What I am trying to do instead is implore all current and future study abroad students to really step outside of your comfort zones and try to form connections with everyone on your trip no matter how small the bond. It’s not always enough to go to a place you’ve never been to before because sometimes, true learning comes from learning about yourself through others and that’s not an easy thing to do. Living with 13 other people, not including myself, for a month when you only really knew some of them from a 3 hour class once a week will really teach you something about yourself.
One thing that I’ve learned about myself by being with others, is that I can be very socially awkward and this can be off putting to many people. When meeting people or being with large groups, I tend to stay quiet and observe more than talk and when questioned about something, I can’t always find the right words to answer thus sounding awkward. I also tend to “mom” people a lot which can be irritating to some. By the way, acting like a mom is another way of saying you care but through actions instead of words. After coming home from the trip and having time to reflect, I thought of a couple of different strategies that will help me make more connections with others that may help you. First, acknowledge to yourself that you may feel uncomfortable or unsure with the situation. May it be being in a large group with others, trying an activity that you’ve never done, or even just talking to others. By acknowledging how you feel, you can begin to find solutions to help build confidence. Second, and this may be the scariest tip, just do it. Don’t think about how scary it is or uncomfortable. Clear your head and experience. Finally, take some time to self-reflect to gain a better understanding of what you liked and disliked about your experiences. This will improve your confidence and prepare you for situations in the future.
To find out more about our GCC programs go to http://mcompass.umich.edu