Travel the world and learn a new language
You only have one life and there’s so much of the world to explore. Why not start now?
Most of us have dreamed about taking a break from our jobs to start traveling the world. To make that dream come true, we need answers to some questions: What should we consider when planning our trip? What should we expect from the whole experience?
We spoke to Catharine Scruggs, Columbia University alumna, and now the Director of Regional Operations at Kaplan International, to learn about her experience of quitting a job to travel the world.
Making the dream a reality
Q: What inspired you to travel and live abroad?
Catharine: I think it was my parents who started the whole thing. They sent me on a program in Mexico when I was 15. And from then on, I was really interested in other cultures and learning Spanish. So, when I went to college, I studied international affairs, focusing on Latin America and kept studying the Spanish language. I also studied international affairs in graduate school and did an internship in Peru. I then joined the international education industry. At a later point, I was overseeing a study abroad program in Spain and felt that I want to improve my Spanish. I was able to work while studying Spanish in Madrid. It was a great experience!
Q: What was your motivation for taking the step forward on your international studies and deciding to learn a new language in a foreign country?
Catharine: I always loved it. It has always been part of my life. I've always tried to find ways to travel and live abroad. Even now, I still hope to have opportunities to live in another country.
When I came back I just felt so changed and more confident. And it really helps me to engage and understand other cultures.
Q: What is learning a new language in a foreign country really like, and what did you like or dislike about it?
Catharine: I can't think of any bad experiences, I was open to accepting the experience as it came. I've always traveled a lot, that’s when most of the adventures happen – like having my passport stolen. When I was staying in a homestay or a long-term situation, I didn't have those things happen. You develop a lot of experience, and you just roll with what happens. You can take that back to your real life which makes you more accepting and flexible.
It can be hard to make friends. You will certainly interact with people in the service industry like cafes or stores. If you have an interest, try to find activities or people who share that interest in your destination country. Volunteer work is also a great way to meet people!
Q: What are the important things young professionals should consider during the planning process?
Catharine: Don’t pick a vacation time in that country when everyone (locals) is away, like August in Europe or February in China. Also, in a smaller city it might be easier to connect with the locals.
What comes next?
Q: People may worry about derailing their career after the experience, what do you think about that?
Many employers look at experience abroad and the ability to speak another language very positively. It's a huge plus for someone to take their own time off and improve themselves, it also showcases their independence.
Q: How did the experience help your profession personally?
Catharine: I gained more understanding of the language and culture which I used directly in my job but would also say it broadened my perspective and enabled me to approach work more creatively.
Q: If you could get on a time machine, what would you do differently?
Catharine: I’d probably try to have a longer experience, like a year-long program. The longer the experience the better, I’d definitely try to extend some of those experiences.
The longer you stay the more your language improves and the more understanding you will have of the culture.
Q: What’s your suggestions and recommendations about traveling abroad?
Catharine: Live in a homestay! I’ve had some of my best experiences from living in homestays. You definitely get a window into the culture that you would not get in a student residence or a hotel. Because the family is a building block of the culture – it’s how people live. And it’s cheaper, you'll get more language practice as well.
Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and study a language abroad. It might be for your career, to get into a foreign university, or to travel and broaden your horizon. Whatever the reason, challenge yourself and experience something unforgettable!