So, you’re considering study abroad. Or maybe, you’ve already taken the leap and have signed up for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Congratulations! You are about to embark on one of the most amazing experiences of your college career. But… you don’t know what to expect. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! The idea of studying abroad can be a bit daunting, even for seasoned travelers. Luckily for you, I have a lot of experience and expertise on this topic!
Throughout my 4-year college career, I studied abroad three times. Yes, you read that right – THREE TIMES! Study abroad hooked me from the beginning – and it will hook you as well! If I could change anything, I would say maybe I should have studied abroad four times. Or even five. These experiences and journeys were some of the best moments of my life so far. But it wasn’t always a walk in the park. Living in abroad has all kinds of challenges, opportunities, and surprises along the way.
Here is a list of the top 5 things you need to know before heading off to live in an entirely new country:
- You will most likely get homesick.
Missing home at some point or another is almost inevitable when studying abroad. And this is understandable! You are living far from everything you know, your family and friends are all back home, and you are surrounded by entirely new cultures and customs. It is completely normal to feel out of your element, and to even wish you were back in your home country to see the people you miss. Just know that these feelings come and go, and it is not a permanent state! Over the course of your study abroad program, the journey will have ups and downs (and for the majority, there are MANY more ups). To read more about this roller coaster of emotions, read The Ups and Downs of Study Abroad.
Remember that even if you feel homesick, this is normal. But the places you will see and the memories you will take back home will definitely make the journey worth it!
2. You will see new ways of life that may surprise you.
One of the most beautiful aspects of study abroad is the chance to insert yourself inside a new culture and a new way of life. A lot of us have preconceptions or expectations about a country’s people and lifestyle. But we may be surprised with what we find when we actually GO there. This goes for the country you will live in, and also for any other countries you visit throughout the semester. I was surprised by the nightlife and the history of London. I was surprised by the laid back customs of Spain. I was surprised by the composed public demeanor and strict laws of Singapore. You may find that your idea of a country is completely wrong – and that is a beautiful thing! The only way to know is to hop on a plane and see it for yourself.
3. You will meet amazing people… and even make friends for life.
Through study abroad, I have met some of the best people that I know. Each time that I signed up to move my life overseas, I went by myself, not knowing a single other person that would be there. This was a bit nerve wracking, but completely worth it. I was able to be myself and grow, while simultaneously meeting people who would share this adventure with me. When you’re surrounded by unfamiliar customs, ethnicities, and even languages, you’ll be so glad to have other people there to go through it with you. Imagine a group of people embarking on a journey to a new place, living in a new home, eating new foods, obeying new laws, and unfolding a new sense of adventure from inside themselves. It can be a lot to take on, but you’ll always have a place to turn… each other!!
4. You will probably get sick.
As much fun as you will have abroad, there will be times when illness catches you. I’ve had a few bad experiences with this, including food poisoning, infections, and random stomach bugs. It’s important to know where you can turn if you need help. Is there an emergency medical number? Does your program have an advisor who can help you?Where is the closest doctor to your host family/dorm/apartment building? These are all good things to know before you get sick. And also know that it won’t last forever – illness can feel even more terrible when you are far from home. But just like any sickness, you will get better and return to your adventures soon!
5. Parts of you will change.
This may be the most important thing to know of all. After all of the side effects of studying abroad – growing through a culture shock, speaking a new language, meeting local people, seeing new customs, understanding a new religion, learning a different take on politics, getting lost in a foreign city, and so much more – you will change. Maybe you will have a new view of your host country. Maybe you will gain a new perspective on your HOME country. Maybe you will feel yourself growing in independence and confidence. Maybe you will come home with a more open mind. Most likely it will be a combination of all of these things. This is the entire purpose of studying abroad. So rather than being weary of the changes, embrace them with open arms!
“We travel because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something inside our minds has changed, and that changes everything.” -Jonah Lehrer