“If you never go, you’ll never know.” – Unknown
From a young age, I have had a strong desire to travel to places I have never been before. I boarded my first international flight at the end of May 2022, studied abroad in London with my classmates for ten days, and then finished the trip with a week-long excursion to France.
Before leaving to study abroad, I reflected on the life skills I learned from starting a NeW chapter at Oakland University. NeW enables young women with knowledge they can apply in all areas of their life. Do not be fooled by the pink logo, adorable scrunchies, and inspiring stickers—members of NeW are informed, hardworking, and persevering women on track to truly make a difference in society. The skills I learned through starting NeW at Oakland University have made me a more well-rounded person and taught me life skills that I cannot learn in the classroom.
Leading a NeW chapter taught me the importance of planning ahead. I knew that once the school year started, I would not have time to create events on-the-fly. I spent intentional time preparing by organizing events, purchasing supplies, and reaching out to members. I strategized the best ways to recruit more members and spread the message of a leadership group on campus. Planning ahead is not something you “have or you don’t;” it’s a skill everyone can learn. The method I find useful is writing down events in a planner and making to-do lists. My motto is, “If it’s not written down, it’s not getting done.” I took what I learned from running a NeW chapter to plan ahead for various aspects of my study abroad trip. I gathered “American gifts” to bring my French friends. I made a daily outfit list and laid out my clothes, shoes, and jewelry for each day before packing my bag. (pckart.net) And I completed six weeks of assignments and assessments for my literature summer class in three weeks, so I would not have to do any homework while traveling. This skill was especially helpful as I prepared for my travels.
Another skill I learned from NeW that I found beneficial during my time abroad was budgeting and being financially responsible. Working within a budget and seeking cost-friendly options for NeW events has taught me the value of a hard-earned dollar. Before my trip to London, I set a budget for food and souvenirs to avoid splurging unnecessarily while abroad. It can be tempting to stop at every tourist stand and feel the need to stock up on souvenirs in the moment. I picked up extra shifts and worked hard ahead of time to set aside spending money for England and France. Making wise financial choices is an important skill to learn during young adulthood, and helped me when studying abroad.
Similarly, NeW taught me how to have respectful conversations with people from different viewpoints. It is okay to disagree with someone, but it is not okay to degrade them as a person. I gained a new perspective during my study abroad when communicating with people in French and English. Before visiting France, I had no idea how heavily I relied on the English language. From the overhead announcements to the street signs to conversations, I felt overwhelmed by how much I did not know. But, I was able to speak basic French from my high school and college classes, using gestures and facial expressions to communicate where words failed.
One thing I love most about our NeW chapter is how it brings a diverse group of women together over the shared desire for community. Women in our chapter are Criminal Justice, Nursing, Marketing, Musical Theater, and Education majors. As President of the chapter, I have had the unique opportunity to learn from each of the women about their area of study. This skill helped me make interdisciplinary connections throughout my trip, making the experience all the more rich and eye-opening. I saw my government classes come to life when I toured Parliament and learned about the British government. Reading Shakespeare in my English classes helped me understand and interpret the play Much Ado About Nothing, which I saw at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. I also used my years of studying the French language and culture to communicate with people in France. These opportunities brought the college disciplines of government, literature, history, and language, to life, making for a more meaningful learning experience.
Learning these skills in a familiar environment was key to set myself up for success while abroad. If you have the chance to study abroad—GO FOR IT! You will not regret it. College is the perfect time to study abroad and step outside your comfort zone. Visiting new places and trying new things is essential to growing as a person. You will learn practical skills and gain life experience that will shape your character. Life is short, go out and explore.
Erika Head is a NeW Chapter Leader and NeW Fall 2022 Communications Intern.