Study abroad isn’t really about academic classes. That isn’t to say that classes aren’t important, they are full of important information and knowledge, but that the most important experiences and insights of study abroad are found outside of the classroom; they come from the people you meet and the adventures you have. Study abroad is a time of personal discovery and exploration that should be cherished and embraced.
I spent the first semester of my junior year at Kalamazoo College in Strasbourg, France (here are a few tips for the area) on the East bank of the Rhine river. Strasbourg is somewhat of an anomaly in France, a country steeped in ancient history that is sometimes fiercely protective of its distinct culture and language, with its blend of French and German influences that defies easy cultural classification. Many of its citizens are fully bilingual in French and German and Alsatian (a low-German dialect with strong French influences) can still be heard in some older quarters of the city. Moreover, modern Strasbourg is both a university town, with over 50,000 students, including many international students, enrolled at the University of Strasbourg and several related colleges, and a hotbed of European politics as the home of the European Parliament. It was into this multinational, young culture that I stepped when I arrived fresh off the plane from America.
My coursework at the University of Strasbourg centered around European economic and political institutions and was both incredibly interesting and informative, but it was my life outside the classroom that shaped my European experience. Through an old friend studying political science in Strasbourg, I developed a network of European students and scholars who, like me, loved to debate politics, economics, and philosophy over the wealth of wine and beer Strasbourg had to offer. I spent many a night with these new found friends, loudly arguing about the finer points of governance, democracy, and the rights of man. My attendance record in school dropped, and yet I was learning so much about France, about Europe, and about how to form bonds with people in a completely new place and culture.
A year and a half later, it is these connections that have stuck with me and I am still in contact with many of the friends I made over shared drinks, aspirations, and interests. It is these connections that form the true magic of study abroad.
Despite my success in forming these bonds, such connections are not immediate. I was lucky in the fact that I knew a current student in Strasbourg and even luckier that this friend group shared similar interests and aspirations to my own. Even then, these connections took months to form as I was gradually introduced to new people and hang-out spots around the city. It is here that I see the true potential for Oh Hey World.
Oh Hey World connects people to any friends or connections they may have previously made whenever they check in to a new place or location. Moreover, Oh Hey World can connect users with other people in the area who share similar interests and experiences and facilitates long-lasting bonds of friendship and connection in a way that few social media projects have managed to capture. I joined the Oh Hey World Community several months ago and joined the Oh Hey World team this summer, because I see potential for both students like myself, and the larger world, to form bonds and make connections when traveling that would have never been possible before. I travel frequently and am always excited to meet new people with similar interests and experiences. So the next time you’re heading to a new place, check in; the first round’s on me.