As I strolled into the train station at precisely 8:21 am this morning in Newcastle, England, I checked the departures board to find what platform my 8:59 train was leaving from. And then, at the top, I saw it in big, bold letters: Cancelled. A train was derailed in Edinburgh, so my train was not coming for me anymore. Slight panic. Here I was, standing alone in a train station in a foreign city, and my ride back was currently nonexistent. This meant I was officially stuck in Newcastle for the rest of the morning, except that plan wasn’t going to work, because I had a mandatory class to attend in London. I quickly scanned the board. Think. I noticed there was another train going to King’s Cross, but it was leaving in 4 minutes! Could I make that? It would be a risk. I looked for the ticketing desk, but it was still closed since it was early in the morning. That wasn’t going to help. So, I did the only think I could think to do. I ran to platform 3 just as the train was pulling up. A few brisk strides and long breaths later, I found the nearest ticket attendant, who handed me off to another ticket attendant at the other end of the train. I swiftly explained my circumstance, and asked if there was any way I could get my ticket switched to this earlier train. Luckily, she told me that we could sort it all out on board, so I hopped on, literally seconds before the train rolled out of the station. Exhale. I breathed a sigh of relief. Who knew it was going to be such an adventurous morning?!
Originally from central Missouri, I’m currently living in London for the next 12 months, and through my time here so far, I’ve noticed how living abroad has strengthened my creative problem solving skills in a multitude of ways. You have to be able to adapt to change quickly, think on your feet, analyze the situation, and make a decision. For me this morning, that all happened in the span of a few minutes. But in a less extreme way, that kind of cognitive dexterity is constantly being developed every day, from planning ahead, organizing, and deciphering maps in foreign places to calculating train routes and travel plans. London public transport is wonderful, but it’s not always reliable, and never on time. I’m constantly evaluating, rerouting, determining the best options, and creating new solutions to problems that arise. Instead of panicking when I realized my train was cancelled, I took action to resolve the issue in an immediate way, and I don’t know if I would have had the same mindset, had I been home in my comfort zone in America.
Even though that was just a small example, I’m convinced that living abroad can help develop a lot of skills that will have a real-life, practical impact. Things like being flexible, creative, and willing to rapidly formulate a new plan when thing change. Being able to discover, interpret, investigate, surmise. All of these get tested at a new level. I believe that travel can not only pull you out of your safety net and show you experiences more incredible than you could have imagined, but the skill set and competence you will develop will be invaluable, and make you a better person. A more understanding, innovate, focused, creative person, who can see things in complex, multi-faceted ways. For me, the takeaway from this experience is that we have a lot to learn from the world around us, if we can be willing to expand our minds and try new things. And if all that doesn’t convince you, do it for the gelato.