“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.” (2.7.144. Jaques, As You Like It)
In Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, Jaques opens the door to human experience in his reflective Seven Ages of Man soliloquy. All study abroad experiences have similar ‘entrances’ and ‘exits’ and despite the life-changing impacts of these beginnings and endings, more important are the ‘parts’ that we as individuals play in between. Not only do these parts refer to the characters we choose to be, but also the aspects of our personalities that we surrender for development in our new cultures.
When people first heard I was studying abroad, many asked the million-dollar question: what subjects will you study?
Of course, the academics are extremely important and a natural point of inquiry, for me, the conventional lecture hall and books were far from the only reasons why I had chosen to pursue a foreign education.
Attending a University lengths away from home provides an infinite number of extra-curricular opportunities and the chance for you to be involved with an unfamiliar community of people. These diverse human interactions are the bread and butter of travel and international education; they help you to discover more about yourself and can dramatically alter your future aspirations.
So, what does extra-curricular actually mean? As a prefix, extra- means outside or beyond an area (Collins Dictionary) and when paired with curricular, the adjective emphasizes going above and beyond an educational syllabus. When studying abroad, the world becomes your ‘stage’ and taking ‘part’ in extra-curricular activities is a way of exploring your potential selves.
Here are two extra-curricular highlights from my year abroad that serve as examples of activities that you could become involved with:
1. Radio DJ
As a volunteer Radio DJ, I co-hosted a two-hour weekly show and gained invaluable insight into program planning, using technical equipment successfully (most of the time!) and speaking confidently to thin air. My co-host was a British girl who I met during International Orientation. She left a lasting impression on me and inevitably became one of my best friends through our off-air scheming.
What radio volunteering opened up for me was a new perspective on friendship, the chance to mix with self-assured people and even meet my long-term boyfriend. When presenting a show and trying to gain a following, you quickly learn to be more decisive, how to improvise and establish conviction regarding your musical taste and beliefs. These attributes not only allow you to cruise the airwaves smoothly, but also push you forward in everyday life and change your way of thinking.
I fully advocate involvement with a media outlet on your University campus. Whether you join a radio station, try your hand at writing through the student newspaper, or even start a public campus blog, it is an extremely rewarding experience. The creative people you are colleagues with are challengers and through their influence you will find yourself soul-searching and dominating a confident voice.
2. Alternative Service Break
Popular at many Universities, Alternative Service Break (ASB) trips are an invaluable form of volunteering which not only give you the chance to help others, but also have the experience of traveling outside of your comfort zone along with a group of other students.
(For those unaware of the ASB program, its overall purpose is to send teams of students to domestic and international areas that are struggling with humanitarian issues; these could include homelessness, domestic violence, natural disaster consequences and immigration to name a few. The aim is to inspire students to realize their part in the world, gain knowledge of how they can impact others’ lives back home and make progress towards changing very real problems.)
My host school had been sending students to crisis locations within the worldwide since 2001 during both Winter break and Spring break and I participated in an immigration volunteering experience on the San Diego and Mexican border. Our team gained a 360˚ perspective on the hot-topic of border crossing through speaking with illegal immigrants, helping local charities such as Casa Familia and Border Angels, and touring the border itself with the Border Patrol. The week provided heightened emotions, a variety of ideas and perspectives, but above all, shredded all media interpretations that we had arrived with. Meeting with illegal immigrants and Border Patrol gave us insight into how different groups of people have to function within a society to survive — this in itself was a very special experience.
Definitely one of my most rewarding activities, I highly advocate volunteering for your school ASB program. You develop unique insights into issues that may never seemingly have affected you before and learn to recognize that although there is darkness in our world, there are a huge number of individuals fighting to brighten the lives of those in need.
Furthermore, these trips allow you to spend time connecting with the varied personalities in your group, forging new friendships and determining what it means to appreciate and respect the opinions of others.
ASB trips expose the ‘world’s stage’ and give you the time to partake in service for the benefit of others. There may be little that you can do in one week to completely resolve the issues at hand, but your involvement and presence alone can be a catalyst for hope and potential for those people affected on a daily basis.
Ultimately, involvement in extracurricular activities altered the way I perceive the world in such a way that could not have been taught in a classroom environment. Study abroad activities provided me (and so many others) with practical understanding and an acute awareness of how to work with others, the benefits of making mistakes and learning how to utilize our vulnerabilities.
What are you waiting for? Take the stage!
Growing up surrounded by Manx cats, eating kippers and carving turnips instead of pumpkins for Hop-Tu-Naa (the Isle of Man’s version of Halloween), Joanne Durber always dreamed of living in the USA. After graduating with her degree in English, an opportunity for her to travel across the Atlantic and study digital media at the University of Idaho arose. One year on Joanne is now seeking new travel adventures while keeping in touch with her international friends and planning a future in Idaho.