Dear Potential Study Abroad Student,
Don’t pass by the information table at your home university advertising study abroad programs. You might just walk away with free, colorful stickers for your water bottle and perhaps a pamphlet beckoning you to somewhere new.
World travel: We glamorize it. We get tattoos of compasses and throw a world map decal on our laptops (maybe that’s just me). Yet when will you get another chance to do something like this? That question was the driving force in my decision to study abroad.
“I go to seek a great perhaps.” -Francois Rabelais
Stumbling across the last words of this poet while reading “Looking for Alaska” by John Green a few years ago, I remember wondering what my “Great Perhaps” would be. The idea of traveling was a distant dream. Perhaps you’ll find yourself halfway across the world like I did, staring at a public transportation map and coming from a town with less than ten stoplights. Channel the courage of those who got you there, step on the bus, and dismiss any unhealthy fear.
Here are three thoughts on what to expect while studying abroad:
- Embrace the “College Freshman” Feeling
You might feel like a college freshman all over again, rushing from orientation to campus tours and registering for classes. Granted, packing your bags and moving to an unfamiliar country rather than across the state or home country is a bit different but brings with it a familiar exhilaration.
- Find Bearings in Your Identity
I hope you’re ready to learn a thing or two about yourself. Studying abroad forges you into someone apart from how your friends and family at home view you. Dear friend, prepare to have walls of insecurities crumble. Push past the mundane and have no reservations in friendships. Other internationals will know exactly what you feel, and locals will help with adjustment.
Deal with hardships tossed your way and face sadness head-on. Coming to London, I learned that crossing an ocean doesn’t rid me of past hurt. However, removing myself from an environment that reminded me of it helped with healing.
Jump at the chance to explore by yourself. Some of my favorite days in central London were those spent venturing around on my own, ducking in hidden book shops and cafes or visiting museums.
- Break Down Cultural Barriers
Any preconceived notions of your host culture will be torn apart. No amount of research can prepare you for the cultural differences but reflect on these and expand your worldview. You’ll feel the weight of “study” in study abroad and find ways to cope. I never grew tired of my university’s library as the London skyline glittered in the distance.
Take advantage of other places right at your doorstep. Who knows, you could travel to five countries in two and a half weeks. You’ll stumble over the language barriers you and recognize how this humbles you.
May your roots keep you grounded as traveling cultivates a deeper love for your hometown. Find those days that are an antidote to your homesickness. And please, call your loved ones back home. Sometimes it’s for no other reason than to tell them about the Ethiopian restaurant you tried or how this person at the park walked SIX DOGS (and yes, you pet every one of them).
You might feel small at times, wandering around narrow streets with buildings kissing the sky. You might question somewhat putting your life on hold at home. Discover the great strength that primarily came from crossing an ocean. Set out to find your “Great Perhaps.” Dear potential study abroad student, go for it.
Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.