Undergrad on Social Impact Research Experience in Spain

Posted by Olivia Nelson, W’17

madridFor four weeks this summer, I traveled alone throughout Europe conducting an independent research project. This project was sponsored by the Social Impact Research Experience (SIRE) program, offered by Wharton. Of course, I learned quite a lot in regards to my research, but I also learned a lot about what it takes to travel alone. I have been traveling all my life and love to do so, but the thought of traveling alone—no family and no friends—definitely made me nervous. It certainly was not easy, being a lone traveler in places with very different cultures. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time and would like to share what I would say are the five most important things I learned during my traveling.

Top 5 things I learned while traveling alone:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Of course, this applies to life in general, but it is especially important to remember when you are in a foreign place. It’s easy to stop yourself from asking for help so that you don’t seem like an “outsider” or incapable of figuring things out on your own. However, it is of the utmost importance to be able to put your pride aside and ask for help when you need it. Above all else, it can lead to avoiding future frustrations that might be made from needing help but not wanting to ask for it.

2. Perspective matters.

Simply put, different people have different perspectives, which are influenced by several factors, such as your native culture. For instance, I quickly realized that what I consider unexciting, like the English language, is fascinating to many other people. At first, I found it surprising that even though 95% of the people I met had a different native language, they were more interested in practicing their English. But, I realized that it all had to do with perspective: English seems lackluster to me because I have spoken it all my life, but to other people who are still in the process of learning it, it is exciting and they appreciate having the chance to practice it.

3. If you are not already used to it, you will get used to being held accountable.

Traveling alone means you call the shots—where to go, what to eat, how to spend your money. Of course, some decisions are easier than others, and you will realize that some decisions end up being better than others. But, the most important thing is learning the value of accountability and what it means to be completely responsible for yourself and your actions.

Originally posted on the Wharton Undergraduate Blog, August 10, 2015

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