For International Education Week 2016, WES Advisor asked readers to send submissions to our annual essay contest. The prompt was inspired by a Henry Miller quote:
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
We asked readers to describe how studying abroad changes the way they see the world around them.
We received some excellent submissions, with many of the essays focusing on the power of education to combat ignorance and oppression and encourage understanding between cultures. We would like to thank all of those who participated!
Congratulations to our four winners: Neha Chitre, Sreenidhi Vedartham, Natasha Padua, and Saima Merchant.
Today, we want to share with you the top two winning entries.
Related article: Essay Contest Runners-Up
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First Place Winner: Neha Chitre
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine.
Since time immemorial, it has been man’s desire to explore the unseen and go beyond the horizon. The quest to find what lay in store for him over the next hill is what propelled man to travel to newer lands and embrace what he discovered there. However, doing this is far easier said than done. It is not easy to leave the comfort and security of your home—especially when you are fully cognizant that surprises and challenges await you on your path. But it is only when we open ourselves to a world that is completely different from our own that we can realize the meaning of life in its truest sense.
Just like how a butterfly leaves its cocoon to discover a new world, studying abroad can change the way you see the world. At home, we often take for granted the support that is bestowed upon us by our family and thus conveniently blame those around us for the decisions we consciously make. When you study abroad, you realize that you are solely responsible for the actions you take. It is only when you are exposed to the daily challenges of balancing household chores, academics, and other responsibilities that you learn to value the time and support that others offer to you. You realize that you can choose to do what exactly as you desire, and thus are the driver of your life instead of just a mere passenger.
Thinking globally and acting locally is the need of the hour. To make the world a better place, it is imperative that we all come together and deal with the various problems that are engulfing our societies as global citizens. Studying abroad exposes you to various issues and concerns that you may have been previously unaware of. For instance, as a life science student, you may be aware of the diseases prevailing in your locality, but on the other hand, you might be totally blind to the repercussions of an epidemic in some other part of the world. However, it is vital that we continually expand our knowledge, seek new inventions and technologies, and use our experiences, skills, and education to better our societies. Thus, studying abroad gives you the opportunity to expand your horizon and gain more academic knowledge.
Most importantly, by studying abroad, we learn to appreciate other cultures and traditions and embrace people from myriad backgrounds. This teaches us far more than we can ever learn from books. We discover that, just like earthen pots, we are all made of the same mud and clay, but are all just molded differently. Our view of the world becomes changed because we learn to appreciate the unity in diversity and evolve as human beings in the fullest and deepest sense.
Neha is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Pharmacy degree at Institute of Chemical Technology, India.
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Second Place Winner: Sreenidhi Vedartham
When you are from a family that provides you with incredible opportunities but doesn’t let you out of their sight, it can be a little hard to spread your wings.
When I first expressed my interest in going abroad, my family was skeptical at first. Then when they agreed to let me travel 9,318 miles alone from India all the way to the U.S., I have to admit I was shocked, but I’ve also learned not to question good things when they come in life.
When I traveled for the first time, I felt liberated. I came to U.S. with dreams and aspirations like many others before me. I was your typical international person in a foreign country; gawking at anything and everything. Even the simplest things made me stare. For example, public displays of affection are unheard of in my country and are something that took time for me to get used to as a foreigner. I also discovered that the U.S. is a beautiful country where you find kind people willing to help you every step of the way.
As I started my master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Tyler, I found that most of my misconceptions and preconceived notions about living in a foreign country were false. I was eager to grasp and learn new things as I am an inquisitive person by nature. In my country, people shake hands whereas here they are happy to give you a hug. In America, you have to get an appointment to meet friends and family, whereas back home, we just show up unannounced. The cultural norms took time for me to understand, and, to be honest, I have made several mistakes while learning them. But I’ve always found myself in good company and received help while bumbling my way through my version of American cultural faux-pas. I still make a lot of errors, but I think I am improving my slang and speech!
I can confidently say the biggest thing I’ve learned in the past year and a half of living in the U.S. is to embrace my originality. You learn to become confident as you traverse through an unfamiliar place where you don’t have the same support system as back home. Studying abroad teaches humility, patience, and selflessness and you become proud of your home country as well as the country that has welcomed you with open arms. You learn to keep an open mind, not judge people, embrace people’s differences and to love yourself. I can honestly say that studying abroad is the best decision I’ve made in my life and can confirm that I have seized every opportunity provided to improve myself during this journey.
Sreenidhi Vedartham works as a graduate assistant for Student Money Management and is an international ambassador for her graduate school while pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Tyler.
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Congratulations again to our 2016 essay contest winners and a big thank you to everyone who participated!
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World Education Services – WES Student Advisor – We provide international students and skilled immigrants with tips and advice from university admissions experts, career counselors, and immigration experts to help them make informed decisions about immigration, employment, and education opportunities in the U.S. and Canada.