Well it’s officially time for me to return to the States and start a new job. I can’t express how much I am going to miss Europe and the lifestyle here but I also look forward to starting the next chapter. As a graduate student I think I probably had a bit of a different experience at WU. For example, I was the only American and with the exception of one Canadian (in a single class) all students and instructors were from Europe. I was somewhat surprised to find that both students and professors were highly interested in the U.S. This was especially the case in the classroom, where I was frequently asked to comment on class discussions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m awesome, but I think this was a result of the demography/composition of the class and the strong global influence of American corporations. In any case, this put me in an interesting position and plenty of entertaining conversations and group dynamics. Sometimes American students report being mocked overseas (probably mostly in a good-natured way) but this was simply not my experience. If for some reason you are worried about that – just read the journal before travelling. Europeans tend to be more knowledgeable about politics and international affairs. So read up so you aren’t one of those “stereotypical Americans” overseas.
What did I learn? My communication and interpersonal skills were tested and absolutely benefited from this experience. Not only in speaking with people who were less than fluent in English, but also from appreciating cultural differences. Germans for example tend to be more assertive in group dynamics. Once you understand this is nothing personal you can adapt your personal style as needed. If you find this frustrating, just remember you will run into similar personalities in your future workplace. Classroom dynamics were also very different in Austria: MBA classrooms in the States are more adversarial and assertive – take a position, make recommendations, defend with debate. In comparison the environment at WU was much less spirited. Improving soft skills (i.e. communication or being more flexible and adaptable) is probably the most valuable part of a study abroad experience. And believe me, traveling through Europe provides PLENTY of opportunity to work on this stuff. Case in point, I’ve also become more assertive in my travels. Americans seem to want to apologize for everything, but over here, you have to be more to the point. Be prepared to have to push your way into lines or cram into public spaces such as trains.
I made a lot of amazing friends from all over the world and feel very blessed to have taken part in this program. If you are still deciding whether or not to study abroad, I definitely recommend it. You will have a blast and will probably never have a better opportunity to grow and learn about yourself. These sort of experiences challenge your mental models and help you become a better person. Just be sure and embrace the culture once you arrive and don’t be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone; that’s kind of what it’s all about. Some of my favorite quotes talk about living your life in a state of “expanded curiosity” and feeling at home in the world no matter where you are. Try and do this when you travel, and if for some reason it doesn’t seem like you are finding what you are looking for, find instead what is there.