This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please read my disclosure for more details(Last Updated On: November 29, 2018)
I just completed my Master of Management degree in Switzerland. I am originally from Canada, and worked for 6 years as a CPA before taking on a second degree. From a career standpoint, my degree was “completely useless” as I didn’t need it at all to progress in my traditional career path. However, I am glad I took 2 years off and completed the Master anyway. I learned so many life lessons that they just don’t teach you in the textbooks! Here’s a list of 10 things I learned from studying abroad!
1. I learned how to appreciate my friends and family back home
I did my Bachelor degree at a university about one hour from Toronto. I was able to go home practically every weekend. I never felt like I was really away from home because my family and friends were literally just an hour or so away.
Being in Switzerland is totally different. The flights take around 7+ hours one way and cost around $1,000 round trip. I can only afford to see my family once a year, and for a really short period of time. Last year, I went back to Toronto for 2 weeks. This year, I’ll be back for only one week.
Studying abroad has taught me how to appreciate my family and friends. When you see them everyday, it’s easy to take them for granted. Now, I feel extremely grateful that I have my supportive family back home to handle every little fiasco that could pop up.
I also realized who my true friends really are. My real friends are the ones who would do anything for me, even though I’m halfway around the world. And even though I went from a high-earning CPA to a broke-ass student, they still like me just the same. That is true friendship.
2. I learned how to say goodbye without breaking out in tears
I used to have a very hard time saying goodbye. I always broke out in tears. It was ugly.
Now, I am so used to saying goodbye, it doesn’t even phase me. Every time I meet someone new, I know that I will probably never see them again.
Friendships come and go. A lot of my best friends from my Master degree have already left Switzerland. And I’m okay with that. I’ve learned how to cope with having “non-permanent” friends.
Every time I say goodbye to someone, I still get a little sad or emotional. Like, “Oh, hey, that person was great, I will really miss them.” But I don’t go through the whole “Oh my gosh, my life is over without this person” phase any longer.
3. I learned that money isn’t everything
When I did my Bachelor, getting a high-paying job was my #1 priority. I did whatever it took to graduate with good grades and secure a high-paying job. I sacrificed my social life and even some relationships.
The second time around, with my Master, I realized that money isn’t everything. I enrolled in courses that truly interested me. In the end, I decided to forego the high-paying jobs in industry to continue studying (I am starting a PhD next month)!
My PhD salary pays less than half of what most industry jobs for my level of experience pay. But I truly don’t mind. I realize that money isn’t everything. Having a fulfilling, meaningful job that you love and are passionate about is so much more important. I am so much happier because of it!
4. I learned the perfect balance between getting good grades and being social
My Bachelor program was extremely competitive. As a result, I was basically just studying all the time and trying to keep up with everyone else. I used to party a bit in the first and second year, but in the last 2 years of my Bachelor, all I did was study. It was sad and boring.
I regret that I didn’t go out more and try to meet more people during my Bachelor. I had a handful of close friends who I did everything with.
For my Master, I studied much less than I did during my Bachelor, yet still got more or less the same grades. I socialized with other students and we even organized overnight trips in other countries like Italy and Denmark. I made the most of my Master instead of hiding behind books.
I was so amazed that I became so much more social, studied so much less, and still got the same grades. That is not to undermine the Swiss education system. The Swiss system is pretty difficult, you need at least a 4/6 (so 66.7%) to pass any course. My hypothesis is that I was overstudying in the past and those extra hours weren’t delivering any additional return.
5. I learned how to be okay with being alone
Living abroad means that you will spend a lot of time alone. You will spend holidays alone when all your friends go back home to see family. You will spend a lot of evenings and weekends alone too.
I feel the most alone whenever a problem comes up and I have no idea to deal with it. However, living in Switzerland has taught me many new life skills which I needed to learn to get myself out of sticky situations.
For emergencies, I have almost no one here that I can call. And although it sounds sad, I’m pretty okay with it. I’ve learned how to be okay with being alone and how to become more independent. I have faith in the system and I’m sure if something really goes awry, a random passerby would be more than happy to help.
6. I learned how to pack efficiently, travel lightly, and not get attached to things
In the 2 years that I’ve been living in Switzerland, I’ve moved 6 times. SIX TIMES!!!! Some people don’t even change homes that many times for their entire lifetime!
Moving is a real pain. To make my life easier, I learned how to pack lightly and get rid of anything deemed unnecessary.
Now, I lead a minimalist life. I only have one plate, one fork, one spoon, and one knife. I never go shopping because I don’t want to have to deal with additional baggage whenever I have to move again!
When I leave on weekend trips, all I bring with me is a tiny backpack with one change of clothes.
I learned not to get attached to things. Having more things gives me a headache. Having less feels very liberating. I tracked all my possessions in an Excel sheet and I currently own less than 100 things (in Switzerland).
7. I finally learned how to cook (sort of)
I learned how to cook (somewhat) during my Bachelor, but after moving to Switzerland, I REALLY learned how to cook. I had to learn how to cook in order to survive. Eating out costs an arm and a leg, and I really did not have that kind of money to throw around.
In Toronto it was okay if I didn’t cook some nights because eating out is quite cheap. Sometimes it was even cheaper than buying fresh ingredients and cooking at home.
I learned how to make some simple meals that I love and I really don’t get sick of. I love eating salads and anything with (real) mozzarella cheese. Hmm!
8. I learned to stop being a people pleaser
Going to college for the first time means trying new things and meeting new people. During my Bachelor, I was all over the place. I was trying to fit into a bunch of different social groups. I did stuff that really didn’t interest me just because I wanted to fit in.
Since I’m older now, I can’t be bothered to please everyone anymore. If I don’t want to do something, I will just say no. I learned how to be assertive and not give a #$%^ about what other people think of me. And it seems like this “not giving a #$%^” attitude has made me quite likeable and popular among my classmates! Or maybe it’s because I’m foreign, who knows.
9. I learned how to stop comparing myself to others
I used to compare myself to others all the time. I wanted to have the best grades. The highest-paying job. The nicest clothes. The coolest car.
Now, I have become much more humble. I don’t have the best grades. I don’t have a high-paying job. I wear the same yoga pants and oversized shirt everywhere I go (this is a HUGE crime in Europe). I don’t even have a car.
I am much happier now that I have stopped comparing myself to others. I have noticed that the younger students in my program, especially the ones who did the Master straight after the Bachelor without any work experience (so basically, everyone), love to compare. They love to talk about the grades they got and about the high salaries they’re getting paid at their internships. I really couldn’t care less.
I am very open in sharing that my grades are not the best and that my salary is not that high.
10. Lastly, I learned how important networking and active participation is
During my Bachelor, I was very quiet and never spoke up in class. My classes were quite big, so you could attend class all semester without anyone knowing your name.
Here, it’s not the same. Some of my classes have less than 20 students. Needless to say, most of the professors will know your name after the first class.
Here in Switzerland, I try to participate in all my classes so that I leave students and professors with a good impression of me. Most of my professors like me a lot. I had 3 of them approaching me to do a PhD with them. This showed me just how important it is to be participate actively in lectures and stay in touch with professors and other students!
Finishing a Master degree is an emotional journey. I reflected on the greatest lessons that I learned from the past 2 years. None of them were taught to me in class. It was all about going out there and trying to enjoy life as much as possible.
I am really going to miss my Master program, the students, the professors, and most importantly, the lifestyle. However, I am hoping that my PhD program will treat me just as well! I’m looking forward to sharing more life lessons in future posts!
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