Being a perfectionist does not make traveling internationally easy. No amount of time one spends comparing flight schedules, learning common foreign phrases, and putting together the best possible combination of luggage, clothing, and accessories will ever be enough to fully prepare for the immersive and exciting experience that comes with studying abroad. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I found it all too easy to over-stress, over-prepare, and over-exert myself before my trip to Croatia even began.
Here are a few of the things I was expecting to encounter or enjoy during my time abroad, as well as how my perceptions changed as my trip began and what I would do differently in the future:
- Expectation: An international flight will be a fun and different experience than what I am used to.
- Reality: International long haul flights can be exhausting and draining for the first few days of your trip if you do not plan accordingly.
- Recommendation: Take care choosing a small bag to put under your plane seat in order to maximize legroom and comfort (especially if you are 6 feet tall and sitting in economy, like me). Additionally, download many different movie/tv options onto a tablet, phone, or computer so that you are not bored if sleep proves to be more difficult than expected.
- Expectation: I will be ready to explore many locations once I arrive, and my excitement will carry me through the first few days of my trip.
- Reality: It is almost impossible to overcome the compounding symptoms of jet lag and sleep deprivation without one or two nights of good sleep after arriving.
- Recommendation: Take it easy on your first day. Don’t plan any early morning activities the following day and, if possible, arrive one day before your class program starts so that you feel well rested and ready to learn. Overall, sleep is everything the first few days you arrive, so account for ample time to rest.
- Expectation: A three-week study abroad trip is more like a vacation than a college course. If I do work for a small portion of the day, I should be able to do well fairly easily.
- Reality: Studying abroad is as much about studying as it is about being abroad. Staying out too late on the wrong night can hurt your GPA worse than the next morning’s headache.
- Recommendation: Bring proper study materials, including: a notebook, a folder for papers, and pencils for taking an exam. Also, study for your class, but don’t let it stress you out. After all, you should be able to enjoy your time abroad at least as much as you should be able to devote yourself to studying.
- Expectation: I will have a great time while abroad.
- Reality: I am having an amazing time abroad!
- Recommendation: Don’t forget to take a step back and enjoy your surroundings. Immerse yourself in different cultures, and remember: there are no good or bad cultures, just different ones.