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Broaden the mind by going abroad

Going abroad is an experience that many believe is expensive, inaccessible and at times difficult. However, this is simply not true.  

This past summer I had the opportunity to spend three months in Italy as an English tutor. I lived in with a local family and essentially became the “big sister,” teaching English through conversation and play. Being an English tutor in a different country is truly an enriching experience and I believe that everyone should do it.  

Through Dalhousie’s myCareer I found an agency called Scotia Personnel, based here in Halifax and I applied to be an international au-pair/tutor despite being skeptical of my likelihood of getting to go. After getting the call back and educating myself on the trip, it became clear to me that I had fallen prey to a lot of the misconceptions that surround going abroad.  

In this image: Olivia Ward poses in front of the Colesseum in Rome.
Olivia Ward in front of the Colosseum in Rome. Photo provided by Olivia Ward

It’s inexpensive 

It was surprisingly cheap to go abroad. In the end, I only had to pay for my airfare; everything was taken care of for me while I was there. Leading up to the trip, I worked for a month, saving my money up so I could go, until finally, the time came to leave. I was excited and scared to take on a new country and culture, but I knew that whatever happened I would learn and grow from it.  

The main hardship when you go abroad is the initial adjustment period. Often the destination is brand new, with cultural and language barriers to adapt to. When I finally touched down in Milan I was overwhelmed by the bustling city and surrounded by a new language I had only a basic understanding of through taking a few courses.  

The initial adjustment 

Navigating through such a city with many trains, subways and buses was something I was not used to as I was raised in a small town in rural Nova Scotia. I was able to spend a week with my own family in a small city near Milan called Vercelli. Despite what I thought before coming, it was difficult to communicate with them as they spoke no English. However, in that short week with them, my passion for learning Italian truly took off and as I ventured on to my final destination in central Italy my mind became a sponge to the language. That immersive experience that I had was truly exhilarating.  

Going abroad is the perfect opportunity to learn as well as explore. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and introduces you to so many new people. When I found myself in a small town called Sarnano, sitting at the bottom of the beautiful Sibillini Mountains, I was blown away by the beauty and ancient history of it. At first, it was strange staying with a family I had never met before in a culture I had only experienced second hand. However, before long I was settled in and teaching kids English and helping around the house.  

Teach yourself 

Though teaching English was my main duty as a tutor I took the opportunity to do just the opposite for myself: learning Italian! When you’re immersed in a different culture you have the opportunity to fully delve into it and expand your perceptions and experiences. Using a different language while there gives this expansion a whole new meaning. When abroad take every chance that you get to explore the culture and what it has to offer. I bought comic books to read, discovering just how abundant and exciting Italian comics are. I watched movies with the kids, listened to music and tried my best to speak with the locals.  

At the end of my trip, not only was I was able to reconnect with my own familial roots, I was able to converse and understand life advice that my family gave to me on my last day there. Experiences like these, where you can consciously experience your own development not only in language but as a person are truly those to be cherished. To venture beyond what you know and expand and develop who you are is important for everyone, but especially students who still might not know where their life will take them yet!  


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