Learn How to Learn

By Troy Stiles, ISA Marketing Communications Manager

I’ll never forget my very first class in college. I was one of a hundred-plus freshmen students sitting in a giant lecture hall and my professor asked,

“Why are you here? What’s the point of college?”

People shouted out various answers – “To graduate.” “To get a degree so I can get a job.” “Because that’s what you do after high school.”

My professor listened for a while and then said, “Those are all reasons to go to college, but the whole point of college is to learn how to learn.”

Think about that. The whole point of college is to learn how to learn.

It didn’t make much sense at the time because I was focused on my degree – what classes I needed, what projects were due, etc. – but that was really great advice.

No matter what your major – education, business, engineering, computer science, etc. – the things you are taught now will most likely change dramatically by the time you enter the workforce, especially if you’re a freshman.

For example, I currently oversee all of ISA’s social media. While I hate to admit it, when I started my undergrad, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube didn’t exist yet.  Even Google was barely a thing.  (How did I survive!?!)

Sure, you need to pass your classes and get good grades in order to achieve your goal of graduating with a degree, but while you’re in college, you should also think about the soft skills that are going to help you in the future, whether it’s in your career or in life.

Learning how to learn is essential in order to be successful. Critical thinking and problem solving are two of the most important skills that I’ve developed that have helped me in my career, and if you take a survey of ten random people, you’d probably find that the majority would say the same.

So how does this relate study abroad?

Traveling and studying abroad have been critical in the development of who I am personally and professionally. When you’re in a new country or culture, you’re not able to rely on old habits and routines. Things will be new. Conversations will be different. Even having to communicate with and pay a taxi driver in a different country brings a level of problem solving and critical thinking to what may have previously been a basic interaction.

You may need to use new language skills that challenge your brain in a different way than normal, and you’ll need to exercise emotional intelligence to understand hand gestures, words and actions that you may have never thought twice about before. You’ll even have conversations about life in your home country that force you to look at your home and your culture differently than you’ve ever had to before.

All these new, little things will not only help you to see familiar things and situations through a new lens, but they’ll cause you to learn – about yourself and about your world.

Some of the best lessons I’ve learned while abroad didn’t involve math equations or the proper placement of a preposition, but rather decision making. Being abroad will put you in unique situations, requiring you to evaluate the factors at play and develop a solution you think is correct. These will be unique learning situations. When there’s no clear right or wrong answer and no cheat sheet at which to glance, you’re forced to actually think. And no matter if your answer is correct or incorrect, you’ll ultimately learn.

Why should you care?

The ability to learn how to learn means that you’ll be adaptable, thoughtful, resourceful, and honest about problem solving and solution finding. Like other soft skills, this ability is hard to quantify, but is becoming more and more important to employers as they seek out the best job candidates. In fact, this ability can help improve some of the top soft skills that employers look for, as identified by Monster.

I’ve learned a lot during my study abroad and personal travels that have ultimately helped me in my career, but it all started with that small bit advice on my first day of class as a college freshman – “Learn how to learn.”

Learn more about studying abroad with ISA.

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