This past week I embarked on a life-changing experience. I decided to leave the United Kingdom and try solo traveling to another country. A massive undertaking for a person who had never traveled alone in her life before, but with the proper planning, I had a successful trip. Check out my journey!!
By Zoe Travers
1.Ability to travel
Studying abroad gives you the perfect ability to see as many places as possible for fairly cheap. I would encourage going on weekend trips with other study abroad students or even taking some day trips by yourself, if you’re comfortable. There’s so much to see, and you may never have an opportunity to travel so cheaply, so it’s definitely worth it. You’ll get to learn more about other cultures, and you might start to be more aware of your own culture as well.
2. Free time
If your experience is anything like mine, I was used to being busy back home. I always felt like I had a million things to do, projects to work on, assignments due, things to do for work. While I was abroad, I had so much free time to just do whatever I wanted. This can be a little bit dangerous because you may start to lose a sense of purpose. If I could change anything, I would have established more structure in my free time with things like going to the gym, picking up a hobby, or reading more.
3. Growing experience
Study abroad can be a growth-producing experience in so many ways. It’s a huge test of independence to be in another country all by yourself. In all honesty, you’re going to run into some difficulties, whether that’s not being able to figure out how power outlets work in other countries, or whether it’s much deeper than that, you’re kind of on your own at first. And that’s hard. But at a certain point, you have to suck it up and figure things out. Once you get back from studying abroad, it might feel like “oh well now I can do anything!” And that’s so rewarding.
4. Change of scenery
There’s definitely less dramatic ways of getting a change of scenery than moving to another country, but hey it also definitely works! Sometimes it’s nice just to switch things up a bit in your life, and you might start to feel boxed in at your home university, so studying abroad is a great way to experience another area of the world for a while and just get some new views and new experiences. Also, when you get back, your home might not feel like the “same old, same old” since you’re looking at it from a whole new lens.
5. Getting out of your comfort zone
Studying abroad is a huge decision, and it can be quite intimidating. You might be terrified. And that’s not such a bad thing. Studying abroad is a great way to do something so far outside your comfort zone while you still have a bit of a safety net in school. College is your chance to try new things, learn about yourself, and make some mistakes. For me, I definitely was very comfortable in my hometown, so it was a hard choice to study abroad because I felt like I was starting over. But you can only learn so much staying in one community forever, and home will always be there when you get back.
When you’re away from home for three months, you’re bound to miss home. So honestly just go into the experience knowing that. Even if you’re not someone who’s really dependent on family, and you feel like you can go a long time without seeing friends, those little things will hit you. Especially in the age of social media, where you can see all the local events happening in your hometown, or see friends hanging out without you, that can be pretty rough. You might find yourself wishing you’d made a different decision for feeling guilty for spending a semester abroad. Just try to keep yourself in the moment.
This is a really unique problem that I definitely didn’t think about before I started my study abroad experience. And it might not be a universal problem, but, for me, I went from living in my own apartment, feeling really independent, feeling ready to get my career going, to living in a dorm with other college students and having a meal plan. That’s a hard transition to make, and it knocks you down a couple of notches. To go from feeling like you have this whole “adulting” thing down to feeling like a college freshman again, going through orientation, trying to meet new friends and learn the layout of the school – that’s not easy. What helps me is to remember you have the rest of your life for stability and growth, and it’s okay to save up some of that energy for your post-grad life. Just take it a day at a time, and you’ll be okay.
3. Potential mental health problems
You’re alone in another country for several months with your support system being miles away, and you’re going through a massively transitional period. So yes, it’s entirely likely you’ll experience some mental health problems. That’s totally normal and totally healthy, but it can be really frustrating. Once you get to campus, try to identify the resources available to you if it hits crisis-mode. Just remember that, even if it just gets unbearable, and you start questioning everything, it’s temporary, and the height of your emotions will pass. It’s also worth noting that if you’re studying abroad to get out of a tough mental health period, you may need to rethink your reasoning. If you’re sad in America, you’ll probably still be sad in another country.
Let’s just be honest. Study abroad is going to be expensive, and there may even be some unexpected costs along that way that you’ll need to prepare for. Make sure to have enough money in your account that you won’t have to seriously stress about cost while abroad. And if you plan to travel, figure out how much money it will be to visit different countries, and plan to save. Also you can only pack so much in a big suitcase on the way to your study abroad destination, so make sure you’re prepared to go buy things you’ll need for the semester once you arrive. The little things definitely add up, so don’t let it sneak up on you.
5. Educational roadblocks
Every university is different, and every learning style is different. Be prepared for your new school to approach classes differently. And make sure you’re doing what you can to stay in communication with your school back home. It seems to be an unfortunately common problem that a student ends up on a class that’s different than what they expect, or there’s a problem transferring credits, or maybe they have trouble understanding the grading system. There’s a whole slew of things that could go wrong, so just try to stay in communication with everyone, and don’t back yourself into a corner.
Study abroad can be a whirlwind of a journey, but it’s ultimately so growth-producing, and there’s so much to learn from the experience. When thinking about studying abroad, remember to take your own personality into account and choose an experience that’s right for you. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, but also know your limits and know what will bring you the most joy and growth.
By Zoe Travers
There’s a lot I could say about my study abroad experience. But every person’s experience is totally different. So here is some advice from 5 study abroad students.
- “Don’t be afraid to travel alone and go to as many places as possible. Ask questions. Learn from the locals.”
- “I think my biggest advice would be not to be afraid to do things alone. At home I would never have gone out and done something just by myself but here I didn’t know lots of people so there were lots of times I wanted to something but had nobody to go with. The times I decided to go anyways I had so much fun – sometimes I met really cool people but other times I learned to just enjoy my own company and that has made me grow so much. I’m so glad I didn’t miss those opportunities because I was afraid to be alone.”
- “Have your money checked. Have a plan for how much money you’re going to spend every month. Don’t go too crazy buying gifts because you also have to worry about how many things you can bring back home. You have to take into account the weight limit for flights. Have a good plan for when you actually have to prepare for your projects. There comes a time (at least where I’m studying) when everything is being delivered at the last moment. You really need a timetable. I know it’s frustrating, and I know you just want to enjoy your time abroad. But you really have to do it because, otherwise, you would have come for nothing. You still have to do work. The last thing – go exploring. If you’re going to Europe, don’t just stay in the one place you’re at. Go look around. Go see other countries. Go with other people, as much as possible. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you never know when you’re going to come back here.”
- “Let yourself feel everything. If you miss home, let yourself miss home. If you feel like you’re growing, acknowledge that growth. If you’re starting to doubt yourself, acknowledge those feelings. A lot of emotions are going to be crammed into one semester, so just let it happen and try to grow from it. And if you feel overwhelmed, just remember that you moved to another country, and that’s no small feat. Make sure to pat yourself on the back for that.”
- “Don’t lose your routine, especially after the initial excitement wears down, it’s important to keep exercising and eating right, as well as doing the other things (makeup, etc.) that allow you to retain a sense of identity (especially in a foreign place where everything is kind of existing in this international void). Also, bring rubbing alcohol if you use it for cleaning (I’m borderline dependent on the stuff and if you can manage to find it in the UK it’s way overpriced) (ditto for white vinegar). Also, expect to feel a bit sad after the first month, or at some point, because evidently it happens to most everyone and it would have been nice to know at the time. Expect it so you can prepare, and have a plan in place in case sadness or panic hits!”
There’s so much to learn during a semester abroad, and I hope this has been helpful in preparing you for your journey!