Studying abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime but the idea of leaving home so far behind can feel overwhelming. Like a Fish in Water prepares you to feel comfortable, confident, and ready to take on the world, even in unfamiliar territory. Rich Kurtzman is a Chicago native who has spent more than 20 years living in Barcelona, overseeing study abroad programs and coaching multinational organizations, teaching students and executives alike how to thrive in new countries and cultures.

Step by step, Kurtzman shows you what to expect from your experience abroad, helping you harness your new cultural superpowers to land your dream job. Like a Fish in Water is your personal guide to international living. Learn how to adapt to any culture, fit in with the locals and turn what you thought were challenges into exciting opportunities. Done right, studying abroad will dramatically expand your horizons, not just your professional career but for the rest of your life. Here’s my conversation with Rich Kurtzman.

Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast, I’m your host Benji Block and today, I am joined by Rich Kurtzman who has just come out with a brand-new book titled Like a Fish in Water: How to Grow Abroad When You Go Abroad. Rich, welcome to the show.

Rich Kurtzman: Thanks, Benji. It’s great to be here.

Benji Block: So Rich, you were born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and now, 20 plus years on-site, directly with students in Barcelona, Spain, and other European countries, you’re teaching classes to study abroad students. I want to just start in this conversation with some of what placed you on this path all those years ago. Give us some context to the work you’re doing and the life that you’ve lived.

Rich Kurtzman: Sure, yeah, it’s funny when I look back, it feels like everything that I’ve done has led me to this point, maybe that’s only hindsight, I don’t know but – so, I went to university in Central Illinois and I studied Spanish and Russian were my majors there, which nobody including me, knew what I was going to do with that.

But because I studied Spanish and Russian, I had to study abroad and so I studied – the first time out of the US for me, first time I needed a passport was when I went to Saint Petersburg Russia to study abroad.

Benji Block: Wow.

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah, that just changed, my life changed its trajectory of what I wanted to do and made me want to see more of the world, learn more languages and I did. I came back, I did one more semester and then I went to Madrid for a semester and loved that, fell in love with Spain, knew that I had to go back there someday and when I graduated, I started working for a different study abroad company than the one that I run now.

I love that because I was telling students to study abroad, I was advising them before they went. I was basically getting paid to evangelize about the wonders of study abroad which is I did for free anyway. So then, I actually took a leave of absence the next summer because I had to get back to Spain. I led a group of high school students in Spain with another program.

Went back to work, took the next summer off, did an internship in Milan, Italy with this study abroad company in their study abroad office there. Still didn’t have enough, started my masters degree in Spanish, applied linguistics and second language acquisition in Chicago while I was still working for study abroad. Took another summer off, led a different group of high school students in Spain.

Benji Block: I’m seeing a trend.

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah but it still wasn’t enough though, it just wasn’t enough. I had to go. I knew I had to scratch this itch a little bit more and so, I ended up then getting a job in Barcelona with this study abroad company I was working for. I thought, “Okay, this is it, this is great. I’m going to do it, get out of my system, I’ll be here for two years. I’ll moved back to Chicago and you know, get to see my friends again, see my family” and two years turned into three, turned into four, turned into 20 years and I’m still here. 

So I feel like just all these experiences, even though I didn’t know where they were leading to, actually did leave me to this point where I’m running a study abroad program, I’ve written this book to help other study abroad students and living a wonderful life in Barcelona.

You Get Out What You Put In… But How Do You Know What To Put In?

Benji Block: Wow. Okay, so tell me your favorite part of Barcelona before we get into the book because now you’ve spent so much time there and you kept having this recurring itch; I’d love to hear what your favorite part of living over there has been? 

 Rich Kurtzman: Well, Barcelona — I don’t if you’ve been here or not.

Benji Block: I haven’t, it’s on the list.

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah, it’s just such an amazing city. I’ve never been to a city before where almost everyone that comes here says, “I need to spend more time.” Whether it’s there for a week or two weeks or a day though, this city has something. It does, it has some energy to it that is hard to put your finger on but people are happy. You have the beach here, you got the Mediterranean, the food is amazing, the nightlife is amazing. 

It feels like you’re walking through a museum when you’re just looking at the buildings. It’s just so lively. I think that’s the part that I love most about this city and the reason why I have so much passion for not just Barcelona but also for study abroad in general. Everywhere I go, you have this wonder of exploring the place and getting to know the people and Barcelona is just one of those places that draws you in.

Benji Block: I imagine with study abroad, it is such a wondrous thing for you as a guide because then you’re getting to introduce all of these people over and over again. You see their wonder and you get to play off of that and it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time again and again.

Rich Kurtzman: That’s exactly right. Yeah, it’s an amazing job that I have working with study abroad students because you do see it through their eyes and I know what study abroad meant to me all those times that I did it and I know what we’re doing for students here in Barcelona but, the book is actually for students that are going anywhere around the world. 

Mainly written for US students going abroad or people coming from the US but the activities that I do with my study abroad program with Barcelona SIE are activities that we’ve been able to use with our students to see how well they work and so I’ve put them in this book, so that whether you’re going to Madrid or Mongolia, you can use the activities that are in the book to help you really experience more while you’re over there and not just skim across the surface. 

But really go deeper, get to know people, push yourself out of your comfort zone, and then I know, because I’ve seen it with the 10,000 students I work with is that I know that they’re going to grow more. They’re going to become more resilient, they’re going to be more adaptable, they’re going to have more fun, they’re going to challenge themselves and see that they can get through it. 

So they come out much more confident which all of these things are wonderful life skills but to tell you the truth, they also make you more employable and if they make you a better worker, employee, entrepreneur, whatever you’re going to do.

Benji Block: Okay, so you said, you’ve worked with over 10,000 students at this point. You’re doing these — I mean, your plate’s pretty full, right?

Rich Kurtzman: I think so.

Benji Block: Why did you take the time now to write the book? What prompted that — this specific project?

Rich Kurtzman: I’ve always wanted to write a book and I’ve always sort of been told, “Wow, you should put these activities into a book” because I also write a newsletter for international educators that gives them tips and strategies for increasing cultural awareness and people have said to me, “Oh, you should put this in a book”. I just never really found the time to it, running a company, I got two small kids but — almost nobody says this — but luckily for the pandemic came along, right? 

Then I had a lot more time because all of a sudden we have no students on-site and so I thought, “All right, this is my chance.” I’m going to work really hard for six months while I know that things are going to still going to be slow, I’m going to work with Scribe who has been amazing, that company Scribe Media that I’m writing the book through and they’ve been amazing at coaching me and giving me the confidence to do it and so I did for six months basically. 

I just – morning and night and weekends and vacation time to do it. I don’t think I could have done it otherwise, I was just too much — there was too much going on otherwise.

Benji Block: Well, I’m glad you wrote it and I had to say, right before we started recording this, we were saying how our lives are similar in some ways. I grew up in Chicago as well and then spent some years overseas in Kenya and so as I’m reading your book, there is several things that got me kind of nodding my head in agreement and I’ll tell you one of them right here, just, I’ll quote you as we get into the content.

You say that “The magic of study abroad will be a myth to you if you don’t approach it with the right mindset and tools. The experiences like most things in life, you get out what you put in.” So, I want to start by talking about expectations. How have you seen this play out with the students you worked with, whether it’s great or it’s kind of poor and maybe you have some examples?

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah, I definitely think that’s a great quote for you to pull out because like you said, the experience is like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it but how do you know what to put into it?

Benji Block: Yeah.

Rich Kurtzman: I’ve worked with students that I think they just, what I say is skim across the cultural surface. They’re not ready to try to adapt to the culture that they’re going to. They’re not ready to try to do things differently than they’re doing it back home and sometimes I’ll tell the students straight up and try not to be too mean but like, “If you wanted everything to be comfortable and just like you’re used to, then you could have saved yourself a lot of time and energy and just stayed home.”

“But you’re here to experience difference, you’re here to grow and so here’s the ways to do that.” And that’s why in the book, I wanted to give activities so there’s no excuse of they don’t know what to do to be able to get to know this city they’re going to or get to know the culture that they’re going to 

Or as I said also in the book is, you learn as much about yourself when you go abroad as you do about the culture you’re going to, because you’re constantly challenged with things that are different or things that make you stop and say, “Wait a second, why are they doing that? What is that all about?” and those things are great. That’s golden because then, what I hope that the students say, “Wait a second, why does that stick out to me? Why do I do the things and the way I do it?”

“What are the values that I think about?” and that to me is just a wonderful part of discovering as much about yourself as other people and realizing that people are different everywhere, there’s commonalities everywhere but one is behind that. I think the students, to get to your questions, students that don’t get to experience that. They come away thinking that maybe — they come back and say, “Wow, it was great, it was a good experience, I had fun” but they don’t come back transformed like other students that I’ve worked with. 

Students that come abroad and they join local groups. They join local groups, they join a sports organization. They go on dates, they do… they come to you as language exchanges and they are confronted — or they live in home-stays, right? They are confronted with things that are different for them and they’re curious about it and they really start to question their own values and beliefs, not in a bad way but in a really positive way and they learn that they can overcome these challenges.

You know, I had a student who — and a lot of the growth comes from the mistakes or the failures and I think that’s a wonderful thing to learn in life that we don’t have to be perfect all the time. We shouldn’t be, we should make mistakes, we should laugh at them and we should learn from them. A student that I worked with, I said, “What was the best part of your experience? Where did you learn the most?”

And his was, he went traveling one weekend and got to the new city, he was traveling by himself, got to a new city, realized he went to the wrong hotel. It was a new country so he didn’t even have data on his phone.

Benji Block: Oh man.

Rich Kurtzman: And had to find this hotel that was like an hour walk away without Google Maps, without anything. He had to ask people in a different language, he had to be confident that he’ll be able to do it and he said, “It was the best thing that ever could have happened to him.” He was pushed out of his comfort zone but he realized that he could do it and you get this feeling when you do that, you could do anything.

Benji Block: Yeah. Invincibility.

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah and what a great thing to learn about yourself that you could overcome challenges and I think it’s especially important for people these days and been through the pandemic and everything is, technology tries to make everything easier for you but you’re still going to have challenges and problems along the way and that’s okay, that’s good. 

Benji Block: Yeah, what technology can’t make easier is adaptability. That is internalized, something you have to face on your own to become flexible and multiple and humble enough to walk into something different and be ready to change it up, right? And evolve. I love that, that’s a great example and definitely gives us some things to sort of consider for weighing this as, should we jump in. I want to talk about that a little bit.

What do you think that people should be weighing? Maybe it’s the pros and cons because this isn’t a small investment, right? If you’re going to go and you’re going to do this, give me some of the pros and cons and some of the things people need to be considering if this is the right move for them.

Rich Kurtzman: Whether they should study abroad or not?

Benji Block: Yeah.

Rich Kurtzman: I would say, the pros are a very long list and time for all the pros but just from some of the students that I’ve talked to and my own experiences, the pros are, like I’ve said a little bit before, you’re going to come out feeling much more confident, you’ve been able to overcome these challenges. Depending on where you go, you might learn another language and really improve another language and as you might have seen in some of the chapters of the book, even if you’re going to England or Australia as an English speaker, you’re still going to feel like you learned another language.

Benji Block: That’s right.

Rich Kurtzman: My wife is from England and I’ve definitely learned that we don’t always speak the same language. I have to have some of her British English translated for me but you can grow in that way. Pros are, you’re going to travel, you’re going to see the world, you’re going to meet some of the, probably the best friends that you’ll have forever because you have such an intense experience when you’re abroad and you’re doing it with these new people that are also in this together.

You’re going to go through highs and lows. I like to say that when you’re abroad, the highs are higher and the lows are lower because just an everyday occurrence, something you would do at home, you’re on automatic pilot. If you need to go out and buy toothpaste, you know exactly how to do that at home, you don’t even think about it. If you’re in another country and you got to study abroad in Copenhagen for example, you think, “Where do I go to buy the toothpaste? How do I say toothpaste? How am I supposed to ask for this at the supermarket?”

“Is the money, is the currency different where I’m going? How am I going to get there?” All these things that are challenging you that you overcome on a daily basis and it starts to feel like, “Wow, I’ve done this, I’ve done this, I’ve done that” and it’s fantastic to learn that. The pros are just enumerable I would say and talk to anyone who has studied abroad before and you could see, given the chance to talk about the experience and sit down because they got to talk to you forever.

Benji Block: Profound impact.

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah. Cons of studying abroad is harder for me to say. I mean, I guess it might not be for everyone at every moment of their lives. So, someone who might not be ready for it should think about it and maybe they’re not ready because they haven’t had many challenges before. I mean, that’s even hard for me to say because I didn’t either before I went abroad and that’s part of the fun. 

I don’t know, you’ve stumped me with the cons except for like you said, it’s the financial investment and investment for me is the key word there because it’s going to pay off so much but it is definitely something that you have to be ready to pay for. Now, there are ways of getting grants or scholarships or finding ways, there are programs that are more affordable than other programs, you can go into a shorter-term program but that to me is maybe the only con.

Benji Block: Yeah, the only thing I would say, and I don’t think it’s a con either but you just — you have to be aware of your level of being separated from friends and family back home and where you are on that like that spectrum, you know? 

Rich Kurtzman: Yes. 

Honing The Skills of Adaptability

Benji Block: Knowing that, going in that you’re going to feel some sense of homesickness and how you typically are when you’re away form home so that you can address it, it’s not really a con, right? But it’s just something to be aware of I think in this whole decision-making process, yeah.

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah and that’s different for everybody. The adaptability, it is but it is tough and I think that it ends up as maybe it feels like a con at first and it ends up being a pro.

Benji Block: Yup.

Rich Kurtzman: As the students would say, “You know, I used to talk to my mom five times a day and it was really hard for me to separate myself from her but I realized that I could do it and I appreciated it. It was even more grateful when we did get to talk but also that I didn’t need to.” I think students these days that are so connected to technology as well, it makes it a little bit harder to truly experience being abroad and being present there and so it’s one of the things that I encourage them to do is to disconnect from the phone and connect with the people that are there, even spend time on your own, without the phone.

Without anything just exploring and thinking, reflecting a little bit more. Being bored, like when is the last time people were bored? Because we’ve always got a phone in our hand that could entertain us in one way or another. So the strange thing to me is when students complain about too much free time because usually at school at university they are constantly in some kind of activity and doing something. 

All of a sudden they go abroad and they found that they have two, three hours of free time and it’s at first, it’s hard for them but it is a wonderful challenge to have. It is a wonderful problem to have and hopefully, from the book or from the program they go on, they are given lots of activities that they can do to fill that time with something that is going to be kind of a life transformational moment, an aha moment or just realizing, “Okay, I am okay not doing anything for a while.” That is a key to happiness these days. 

Benji Block: So we’re touching at something even there when you are talking about like boredom or just having this availability when you are over there. You are also adapting just this different culture, right? We swim in a culture when we’re, let’s say Stateside, it’s its own ecosystem. You know, the phone as you mentioned and we can take all of that stuff sort of for granted as if it is like normal but it’s not. 

All that stuff isn’t really normal everywhere. There’s other cultures and that’s so much of what traveling abroad is about in that awakening to that. You talk about the familiar metaphor of the iceberg but how do you use that sort of the iceberg analogy that maybe many of us have heard in different context, how do you use that specifically when you are discussing culture? 

Rich Kurtzman: First up, I want to say I love that you use the word “normal”. That is one of my favorite cultural words to use and I love it when students ask me like, “Where can I get a normal cup of coffee around here?” 

Benji Block: Where can you get your normal cup of coffee? Yeah, you are not going to find it.

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah, I love it. I just love it, those words like “normal” or “rude” or “polite”, “Why are they so rude here?” but obviously rude in one culture is not rude in another. It is polite in another and those things I just love. I love being around students when they are experiencing that and an iceberg, yeah and I truly admit that “iceberg” is used as a metaphor everywhere. I love it for cultural studies because it is so simple and easy to understand that there are things that we are going to observe when you go abroad that are different, that stick out to you. 

I do think you have to hone those skills to be able to know what to observe but then you see it and then what I introduce in the book is a verb that I created that is “to iceberg” something, which basically means to observe something above the surface and then dive down below the water to understand the values and beliefs that drive that behavior. So for example, why do — if someone were going to the US for the first time and saw everybody drinking coffee in a to-go mug usually, to-go cup, right? 

So okay, that is what you observed. Why is that happening? What’s the value behind that? Well, Americans are, we value productivity, we value being on the go, we value convenience, and just in a cup of coffee or seeing how people drink coffee, you can gather that. 

Benji Block: Proof of busyness. 

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah busy, we love to be busy. Don’t worry, where you ask somebody how they’re doing I guarantee you they’re going to say, “Good, good, oh busy.” 

Benji Block: Busy or tired, right? They are both implying the same thing. 

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah and what does that do? That helps you commiserate with someone. It helps you connect an American value level because, “Oh, I am really busy too” because we are being productive, because we are doing stuff and that is a huge value in the US. It was really shocking to me when I first came to Spain because I was used to going out with people in the US and first of all, you meet somebody new and the first question they ask is, “What do you do? What do you do for a living?” 

So you can iceberg that as well. It’s because we value hard work, we value productivity, we look at the American Dream, where are you trying to get to and so when I first came to Barcelona and I would meet locals here, I would meet them out and they would not ask me what I did and this was really disconcerting for me. I want to talk about my work because that’s who I am being an American and so they didn’t but then eventually I would bring it up in one way or another. 

I can just sort of see their eyes glazing over and they would bring the conservation back to football, soccer, personal time, you know, what do I think of Barcelona. And I would just want to be talking about work because to me that’s a way of identification or self-actualization and to many Americans, it is too. That’s just what I was used to and like you said, that’s what you say about cultures is the way that we do things around here as a simple definition. 

When you go abroad, you’re smacked in the face with different ways of doing things and that’s what I love. That’s what I love about going to new cultures and talking to people in different cultures. In fact, right now, we have a Ukrainian refugee family in our house that we’re hosting. 

Benji Block: Fantastic, yeah. 

Rich Kurtzman: It has just been an amazing experience. Like I said, my wife is English, we’ve got two kids that were born in Barcelona so they are multicultural. We are experiencing five different languages here, so Ukrainian, Russian, English, Spanish, and Catalan, all these different cultural ways of doing things. So they are asking us, “Why do people do things like that?” We say, “Oh, well how do people do it in Ukraine?” 

It is just a fantastic opportunity to use all these things that I have always done professionally but also personally, I really like it and my kids are experiencing this and my kids are starting to especially say, “нет” a lot, no, right? They’re learning to say that in Russian very quickly — and now I have lost your question, Benji, because I just got so excited about talking about that. 

Benji Block: No, that’s the exact energy we want on this show and I think that’s a great example. I want to call you back to the busyness thing real fast and your personal experience, Rich, because I want to know; it is one thing when you first get there and you have that itch like I want to tell people what I do for work and how I’m productive and I am busy and then you see their eyes glaze over, okay? 

But now, you’ve lived there for 20 years, so you have shifted in where your foundation or your values are and you live in a different ecosystem. So how have you watched that evolve personally for you and like when you encounter American culture now, I wonder how that’s shifted and changed? 

Rich Kurtzman: I definitely have to be like a cultural chameleon because it still work with the US and I work a lot here in Spain. I go back to the US often for conferences and so I have to shift back and forth. I have a friend here who says for example, “If anyone asked me what I do when I first meet them, they are on my bad list.” She says that, that is so rude to her to ask that because she feels like they’d be judging her based on that and she’s got a cool job but that is her norm.

That is her culture to think, “I don’t want to talk about work. I want to talk about other cool stuff that I do,” whereas again, if I go to the US people want to talk about that often because we don’t see it as judging, we see it as a way of connecting with people. “Ah, you work in publication and books, wow.” “That’s right.” “Tell me more about that,” right? Whereas she doesn’t see it that way. Also I think there is a value in Spain of people always talk about, “Do you live to work or do you work to live?” 

I am not saying that Spanish people are lazy or don’t work hard because I know that they do because I work with them, it’s just not what they want to talk about all the time. They work in order to be able to live and work to be able to enjoy the life that they want to live and they are able to enjoy work and get on in work but also that allows them to have hobbies that are to them much more interesting to talk about then than work. 

So I personally have been able to, I think, go back and forth in that. With something like busyness, it is a little bit easier than things like personal space differences, which is one of my chapters in here where I am used to my personal space bubble, which is more of an American one and in Spain, people have more of a smaller personal space and so they might be more like a — Seinfeld talks about close talkers. 

That is a visceral, a deep experience that you feel when somebody’s “too close to you talking” and so that, I can deal with it now but it still doesn’t feel normal to me to be able to use that word. 

Benji Block: It’s so interesting, the same experience, especially around personal space in Kenya. It is just not uncommon for someone to hold your hand as you walk or on a bus. Everyone is just very crowded and there is no thought of like personal space like, “Oh, we can fit in another person here for sure,” like we just sit next to each other that’s just normal. So that’s always a good example because I think the West and specifically America loves the personal bubble. 

We love some personal space, so that’s a good one. Let us talk about culture shock before we wrap up here. I don’t know how you feel about this. I would say for me personally, I’ve experienced more culture shock in returning home, returning back Stateside than yeah, I think than I did initially going overseas only because you see your culture in a brand new way. I wonder what you think on that and just the ways that culture shock shows up. 

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah, culture shock is something that is so strong and so profound. In addition to working with students, I also do intercultural consulting and I work with executives from multinational companies that are moving from other countries to Spain or from Spain to other countries and I have seen very, very competent adults. 

You know we are talking people in their 40s and 50s that are at the top of their career in Poland or in France that come to Spain to work or go to another country and work that are reduced to sort of infants in a way and the way that they feel because of culture shock differences where they might be so — with our culture, we are so used to a way of doing something that it feels like the right way to do it. 

Someone does it at a different way and it feels wrong to at first and of course, there is right and wrong in those cultural context but when you are also trying to — you used the word “humble” before and I think are humbling and it is very humbling when you have to go to another culture and try to speak the language and you can’t. You almost feel like you’re a toddler trying to speak this language and everything you try to do is just done in a different way. 

That shock is very powerful. Now, hopefully it is something that also energizes you and gets you to ask yourself those wonderful questions of, “Why did they do things like this?” and “Why do I do it?” and then you end up understanding both cultures really well. For students, I think it can hit them in different ways and it goes back a little bit to what I said before, their own adaptability. Their own ability to — their background and how much did they traveled before. 

How much have you felt like a fish out of water before and how much is that going to help them in this new scenario but I think culture shock is a good thing in the end. It shocks us in a way to learn more about ourselves and learn more about the culture that we are going to and I think there is tips and there’s tools to be able to get through it but not sweep it under the rug to actually understand it. 

Feel like it’s okay to be disappointed, to be wrong, and to be not happy all the time and this sort of short-term hit to your happiness makes for longer-term confidence and that I think is what it’s all about. It is so important. 

Benji Block: It is so important. I love how you go into a new culture, you become so aware of the fact that it is not just a right and wrong. It is a normal or abnormal to you and then you come home and then you start playing the same game and you just start essentially seeing the matrix. You see behind the curtain in a different way when you come home and you realize, “Oh the way we’re doing it isn’t the only way to do it.” 

That is why I think your title is so appropriate as well because we all do swim in a certain water that we don’t see and so culture shock to me becomes an aide, it becomes a guide, it becomes a helpful tool in the long run even though it can be momentarily frustrating. I really appreciate the work that you did on your little act sections throughout the book, kind of giving readers something to do, like here is the action item and you had talked about that earlier. 

I want to finish with one of them, which was before you choose to go on a trip like this, you would actually invite students to write out a bit of their purpose or their mission for not just the trip but actually for life more broadly and I wanted to ask like how do you see that ultimately coinciding with deciding to jump into a trip like this, to go overseas, to explore, why do you prompt people to do that and think about maybe life, purpose and mission before jumping in? 

Rich Kurtzman: Yeah that activity — and it comes pretty early that activity, it’s pretty heavy that one in terms of getting them to think about their purpose from the get-go because after that, it goes into their goals. What do they want to get out of it? Because I have seen with the students they work with, the ones that come in with specific goals are the ones that come out of it having done so much more. 

I talk specific and you use smart goals in there, which most people know about although I don’t know all students do, so they don’t go to, I don’t know, to Germany to say, “I’m going to come out fluent in German.” They have some goals that are more realistic but I also want them to think about what are the things that they do back home that they could also do abroad. Like if you practice yoga, it’s an awesome thing to do when you’re abroad. 

It is a great way of getting — staying healthy, it’s a great way of meeting other people, seeing how other people do that. If you play a musical instrument, I’ve seen students that have joined bands over here and their integration, their language skills, their worldview transforms because they are doing something that they love but seeing it from a different perspective and I think when you know your purpose or at least you think about your purpose, it helps you to then go a little bit deeper to think about your goals. 

So why do you want to play in a band? Why do you want to do yoga and where do you want to be? What is your purpose in life to help people out and so if you are going to do internship abroad and you think, “I really want to help people so that’s why I’m going to go do an internship in teaching English.” For example, “Because I want to help these kids or these students learn English and propel them forward.” 

I feel like when your goals are rooted in a purpose, you’re, one, more likely to achieve them and two, more likely to be motivated by them and see it through to the end, and then it’s just this I think amazing feeling of accomplishment and being so proud of yourself for having done that. 

When I compare the students that do that to the students who again just come abroad and maybe have fun but aren’t digging into it with the stuff that they really love, their passions, and that as a lens of getting to know the culture even more to me. There’s a huge difference within those two types of students and I really want to see more students that are getting integrated, doing the stuff that they love, coming away transformed with a different worldview.

With more confidence in themselves, I just think that is going to make for a happier life and more employability as well and it’s what I was able to do in myself and what I love-love-love to see in my students too. 

Benji Block: Well, this has been a fascinating conversation. I know there’s so many pieces to this book that we’re not able to talk about in a 30-minute podcast and that is why we love these discussions but then ultimately want to push people to go grab the book, to do the reading and I believe this is going to be a really powerful resource for many. Rich, thank you for stopping by Author Hour. 

Tell us a little bit of where people can connect with you. I know you have a bi-monthly newsletter, any websites, or what’s the best way for people to stay up with your work? 

Rich Kurtzman: The best way is for people to go to and there they can find some more resources. They can find out how to buy the book, the book is available on in the US and on this website,, they can also sign up for my newsletter, which is tips and strategies for increasing cultural awareness abroad and I hope to keep adding to that website as I move along, add more resources for students. 

For educators, I hope to make it interactive somehow and hear back from people who have read the book, students that have read the book, and with all the activities that I asked them to do, I hope to gather some of their responses and create a mosaic from around the world wherever students are studying about what they see is normal and rude and polite and what they’ve gotten out of it. 

Benji Block: Well again, the book is called, Like a Fish in Water: How to Grow Abroad When You Go Abroad. Go pick it up on Amazon. Rich Kurtzman, thank you so much for stopping by Author Hour today. 

Rich Kurtzman: Thank you, Benji, it’s been a lot of fun.