I’d like to start off with a quick caveat for my readers: I loved studying abroad. I know the header may be deceiving, and I know I am opening myself up for a lot of backlash, but I think this little-known part of the study abroad experience is something that needs to be discussed.
I studied in beautiful London, England, during the second semester of last year. It was rainy, cold and it even snowed – I was terrified the entire time. What I’m sure you’re expecting me to say next is that, despite it all, I loved every second. But that’s not true.
I loved quite a bit of my study abroad experience. When people ask me about it, I have lots of positive things to say. But when people ask me for advice about studying abroad, that’s where I feel like I should be more honest.
Before you leave to go abroad, you’ll probably hear the exact same things over and over again from people who have already been. “Studying abroad will change your life.” “It’s an experience you’ll never forget.” “You’ll never want to come back.”
It’s true that studying abroad will change your life, and it’s true that it is an experience you’ll never forget. But, at least for me, the part about never wanting to come back doesn’t ring true.
Let’s get real about studying abroad. Sometimes, it really sucks.
I was achingly lonely during my time in London and I missed my family, I missed my hometown, I missed my routine. And while I am infinitely grateful for the friends that I made and the experiences I had while abroad, I am not ashamed of the fact that I was ready to come home, and that I feel much happier here.
Studying abroad is something I would recommend to people who are already interested – but it’s not something I think everyone should do.
In reality, being in a different country for an extended period of time with people that you don’t know, doing things you’ve never done before, is terrifying. And it’s not easy.
The problem with the way many people talk about studying abroad is this. We make it seem like nothing bad will ever happen, like you will never feel sad or lonely and that all you’ll feel is happiness and excitement. And this is not true.
Something I learned from my study abroad experience is that there is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed because your independence has taken you to a new place, one outside of your comfort zone. It’s OK to feel scared, instead of excited, about visiting new places and encountering new cultures. It’s also normal to miss the mundane, everyday life that you know so well.
Most of the experiences you’ll have while studying abroad will be breathtaking: hiking the Cliffs of Moher, watching the sunset on Calton Hill in Scotland, eating authentic pasta in Rome.
But among these amazing experiences, there will be moments of heart-wrenching loneliness and a feeling of transience in everything you do. When you’re traveling to a different country practically every weekend, it can be hard for it to feel like real life.
Accept these moments, because they are part of the experience. One of the reasons studying abroad changes your life is because it puts you in situations where you feel uncomfortable. It forces you into a world of unknown people, places and cultures and sometimes, you have to tell yourself, “All right, just figure it out.”
But those uncomfortable experiences and unknowns are part of what make the experience so incredible. Just make sure you’re being honest with yourself about how you feel. When you’re sitting in your cubicle of a dorm room crying at 2 a.m., call your mom. Don’t pretend you’ll be OK, or that no one else feels this, so you should just get over it. That is most definitely not true.
Everyone who studies abroad, even those who loved the experience, felt that fear and sadness. You’re not an anomaly and you’re not doing anything wrong.
In fact, you are just like everyone else.