United States colleges estimate that around 40% of students will study abroad at some point in their college careers. If you love traveling like me, you might consider being one of those students to hop across the pond or head down under and study abroad. Making this decision can be tough and it can be nerve-wracking anticipating what it will be like to live in another country for 4 months. As someone who survived a semester abroad and had a lot of great memories along the way, I wanted to open up a bit about my experiences to give people considering it a sense of what it’s like.
First of all, culture shock is definitely real. But don’t expect it to be one way or another. Culture shock depends on a few factors. For example, where you’re going, if you’ve been out of the country before, language, and even just personal emotions. Some countries will shock you more than others because some cultures differ more radically than U.S. culture. If you don’t adjust easily, definitely consider a country like the U.K. or Australia, that is similar to the U.S., especially when it comes to language.
But that being said, I had never been out of the U.S. when I left to travel abroad and I went to Europe to the Czech Republic, not speaking any Czech myself, and still had an incredible experience so don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone when deciding where to go. Remember that this will be a unique experience that is all your own, so make sure to do some research on where you wanna go. Picking Prague for me wasn’t an easy choice and a lot of people questioned why I picked it. I wanted to go somewhere that was really different that no one I knew had been before. I wanted to know almost nothing about the country I was going to and make my own judgments and learn the culture through my own experiences.
One of the first things to expect is that if you’re going on your own, keep in mind that a lot of people come with people they already know, but that doesn’t mean you won’t meet other people like you. Another thing to expect is that homesickness will hit you at some point, for some people more than others, but it’s totally natural and everyone gets it. I personally went through cycles of homesickness where sometimes I couldn’t wait to go home and sometimes I never wanted to leave. It comes in waves and there are ways to manage it, like a call or Facetime to friends and family at home. Or, go out and take on a new adventure, there’s always something new and fun to do in your city that’ll make you remember what a great adventure it is to live somewhere new.
Another thing to remember is to not have unrealistic expectations about the glamor’s of traveling. Traveling a lot over a short period of time is bound to come with bumps in the road. Just for me during the semester I missed by bus from Vienna, I booked the wrong bus home from Budapest and had to buy another ticket, and dealt with more than one delayed flight. I then had several friends who missed their flights for weekend travel, one who got stuck in Istanbul, and another who lost her passport in Rome. Don’t be afraid to travel but always be prepared for issues that may come and remember to keep a positive outlook throughout your time traveling.
Another thing no one tells you is that even with budgeting, you’ll end up spending more than you intend to for almost every trip you take. I always went into a trip thinking I was saving so much by using a budget airline and a cheap Airbnb, and came out of the weekend upset that I had ended up spending so much money. This took me awhile to get the hang of and everybody has a different system but I’d recommend bringing food or buying food at a local grocery store so you don’t have to eat every meal out.
Lastly, despite classes being generally easier, expect to be tired out by everything going on. As much fun as you’ll be having, pretty soon it will catch up and you’ll start to feel very tired. I’d say that the best thing to do here is not be tempted to go out every night, you’ll have plenty of time but be sure to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep. And if you start to feel sick be sure to have some over-the-counter stuff on hand because it can be a bit tricky if things get worse and you need to go to the doctor.
Despite the occasional bumps in the road, studying abroad is an incredibly rewarding experience and I would do it all over again if I had the chance!