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  • Cortney Dowdle

5 Skills You Gain from Travel or Study Abroad

Updated: Apr 27

I was going through content looking for something positive to share, and BAM - here it is! I stumbled upon something I wrote last year while going through a crazy travel experience. I thought with all of us stuck at home, and with students around the world feeling the uncertainty of travel plans and study abroad arrangements, it would be a good time to share this one.


If you’re short on time, this blog is a reminder that travel is one of the most enriching experiences that we should never take for granted. If you have a dream to study abroad in the USA, use this time to prepare for the opportunity; it will assuredly come around again once things settle down. Read on to learn how travel changes you and how to use it to highlight the skills you've gained.


Visit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

THROWBACK TO MAY 2019

“It’s a Tuesday evening. I am currently sitting on the balcony of a flat that sits above a canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands, thinking about the past 24 hours. In truth, I had titled this blog as one I wanted to write long before events brought me back to Amsterdam to the same Air B&B that I stayed in only about two months ago. My message in this blog is simple, but I believe it’s relevant for all students abroad, avid travelers, and wannabe travelers – travel makes one of the biggest impacts possible in your life. It can single handedly shift your perspective permanently in another direction, and I find that I can’t think of anything else in life that has that big of an impact factor. It’s profound how much it can change you.


Happy place = writing content on a garden-balcony

Where is this coming from? I am sitting outside of a flat in Amsterdam. I kid you not, the sun is going down blissfully in front of me, dipping behind flats sitting above the canal, birds are chirping all around, and I’m typing this blog from one of those swinging basket chairs that the owners put on the balcony for guests to enjoy. There are flowers and greenery growing all over the balcony (because duh, it’s Amsterdam). This is the second time I’ve been to Amsterdam, and neither time was planned. I should be on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa right now. I was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Detroit; Detroit to Amsterdam; Amsterdam to Cape Town, consecutively to arrive late tonight. Due to storms in Orlando, my flight was delayed, causing me to miss my connections on the following two flights.


Let me just say – yesterday was not an ideal day. I was stopped by security on my way through TSA precheck. I got to my gate to learn it had been changed minutes before (thankfully within the same terminal). I waited to board for about 20 minutes before I received the text update and then the board update that the flight was delayed at least two hours. I joined the long (and I mean long) queues to talk to representatives on the phone, and then in person, before learning there was absolutely no way for me to get to South Africa by Tuesday night. I checked on my bag before leaving the airport and was told it would be held until I got on a similar flight schedule the following afternoon.

I got in an Uber and decided to call the reservation specialist line one more time. I called the airline company, and they said they had an overnight flight to Amsterdam yesterday evening, but because I would still miss my original connection, I could only fly out 24 hours later (Wednesday morning) to Cape Town. At the end of the day, this third itinerary didn’t help get me to Cape Town any faster, but it did get me into the same time zone to start adjusting to the time difference a day early. I took the flight with a one night stop over in Amsterdam, texted the Air B&B host I’d stayed with two months ago, and to my surprise after a long day of mishaps, his room was free (felt like a small win at that point in the day, but I took it).


Since I was already in an Uber, I went home for three hours before I headed back to the airport for the second time that day, headed back to check in only to learn my bag was no longer at the airport waiting on me, and got stopped in security, that’s right, again for the second time in the same day. I got bumped from an exit row seat on my original flight to a basic economy seat for the overnight flight to Amsterdam. If any of you are tall, you know how it hurts to lose that extra legroom. I haven’t slept in about 40 hours. I have no idea where my bag is, other than it got sent to my first stop of my first itinerary, which was Detroit. I will miss the first day of events for my work trip. And yet…


And yet…I am sitting on this balcony, writing this blog, and I can’t help feel so utterly grateful that fate brought me back to this flat in Amsterdam. I spent the last several hours walking over 16km along the canals, down windy streets, past the Anne Frank House, the Amsterdam Palace, and the famous Tulip Market. I had the most amazing latte at this little café called Drupo, and then found a perfect Mediterranean restaurant for a late lunch that was bright and full of flowers, with outside seating and the most delicious Andana Kabab meal I’ve ever had.


I always say life is nuts. Ask my people, they know. We never know where it is going to take us at any given time, and the absolutely most miserable of circumstances can sometimes come together to make the most impactful results. My love of travel has grown over the years because of scenarios like this. When something goes wrong with travel plans (like when something goes wrong in life), I immediately try to think of how to make the absolute best of a crappy situation. Where can I reroute to? Do I have any friends in that city? Can I reschedule those work meetings for the day after the event instead of the day before? I don’t even know where my bag is, but I snagged an outfit for work that will be fine if needed. I’ll print brochures for my meetings at the hotel, and I’ll take extra meetings on Saturday if it works for everyone’s schedule.

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Travel is not always easy. Living a travel life is far from the Instagram worthy canal pictures I took all day today. It is not perfectly filtered, nor does it understand when you’ve had enough. Travel can beat you down, exhaust you, make you physically ill, and send you in directions you had no intentions of going in. I have had to fight to live the travel life, and those of you reading this might have to fight to study abroad or help your child study abroad or help educate your students in another county about studying abroad. It’s no easy task. That may mean you have to work to save enough money, search to find the right scholarship, sacrifice to make it through a grueling program, rearrange savings, go against the grain of the education systems in your home country, etc.


BUT - I promise that it is always always always 100% worth the effort you put in. The hard times make you stronger, and the sweet times that surprise you make it oh-so-worth the difficulties along the way.


Studying abroad is a travel opportunity that makes you look back and appreciate the journey it took to get there, not just the end result of classes or a degree abroad.



Skills gained from travel or study abroad:


1. Problem solving

2. Resilience

3. Seizing opportunities

4. Gaining independence

5. Standing up for yourself


Sit back and think – what university wouldn’t want a graduate student with these skills? What employer wouldn’t want to hire someone who could handle challenges? How could a friend, family member, significant other, not find the meaning in and value what you add to the relationship because of your travel experience? Guys, the answers are - None. No one. And not possible.


As I sit here basking in gratefulness, I hope you can see that all of the challenges travel puts in front of us make us stronger and better. Travel truly changes you, and I encourage you all to fight for those experiences.”

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I feel like I stumbled upon this blog exactly when I needed it, and exactly when it might help those of you thinking about helping your child study abroad or taking on the study abroad challenge on your own. Remember that even if we can’t mobilize and travel right now, even if your study abroad opportunity was cancelled or postponed or reorganized, eventually we will return to normalcy and have these opportunities in front of us again.


How will you prepare now to make this future happen later?



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