I had always heard from people that go abroad that it might not be the material in school that teaches you the most but the experiences that come along with Studying Abroad. For me, traveling to different regions of Europe has been what has taught me the most.
Learning about geography, cultures, and languages is one thing, going to the countries that you are learning/have learned about is another. A lot of my prior schooling has been with a lot of the countries majorly involved in WW1 and WW2, and these lessors were focused on the war and not the culture or other interesting things about even the countries we learned about. So far this semester I have been able to see 11 countries that I had not been to before, and I will make it to 13 countries by the end of my program. Several of the countries I visited I realized that I only knew information of them from the early expansion years or how they played parts in war. For instance, the Czech Republic, being so close to Hungary in proximity and at one point in history being a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire was a section of history I knew very little about. Seeing it in person where at the castle you can see areas that were used to defend against the Habsburgs and then seeing the palace where the Habsburgs eventually ruled Czechoslovak territory. This then connected to their rule with the Kingdom of Hungary and Austro-Hungary power of 52 million people and how it in turn brought the end of the mass territory once owned to the now 10-million-person Hungary I am currently studying in.
With each country comes a different culture that I had a preconceived idea of. After exploring a place for 3-5 days you can truly see what their people are like and how their history and culture has transformed their beliefs. Greek culture was one of the things I learned did not match exactly what you might picture it to be. Yes, Athens has the ruins and all the Greek history you learn about. But when you go into the center of the massive country and see the monasteries in the Meteora mountains of Kalambaka you are able to learn about a part of the country that was almost completely detached from the ancient Greece we are taught about. Or even in Zagoria where there are ancient villages that do not see much tourism and people are excited to see Americans living in their culture. When I checked into my village house the owner brought us a specialty food made by his mother to welcome us to the area. Hearing stories from people that have lived in towns or countries their entire lives gave an insight I would otherwise never see.
(Pictures are Prague, Vikos Gorge, Zagoria, and Meteora.)