As I reflect on my semester abroad, I feel I can give some thoughtful advice to students who are planning to go abroad in the future. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, and there are so many opportunities to learn and grow. Hopefully these tips help you make the most of your time abroad!
#1: Don’t limit yourself with your expectations!
You will probably be very excited as you prepare to go abroad– and that’s great! Just be careful and realistic when you set expectations for your time abroad so that you give yourself room to explore and your new home a chance to define itself. Emily in Paris is a television show, not real life; you can definitely have your Emily in Paris moments and experiences during your semester abroad, but if you go into the experience imagining that it will all be glamorous and perfect, you may wind up being disappointed by situations and circumstances that you could’ve otherwise viewed more positively. Get excited about your semester abroad, set your intentions and goals, and prepare; just do so with an open mind and the understanding that you can’t predict what everything will be like, and that’s not a bad thing!
#2: Understand that everyone’s experience abroad is different, and be patient with yourself.
This relates closely to the previous advice. When I first arrived in my new city, I struggled because I compared my journey to other people’s journeys. I had heard about other people getting to their study abroad programs and immediately making friends, exploring the city, and thriving, so I figured I could make sure my experience was the same. However, I didn’t meet people right away (it turned out most of my flatmates weren’t even arriving until the next day), I was stressed about last minute schedule changes I needed to make at my university abroad, and I was way more homesick than I anticipated. Because my immediate experience was different from what I believed others’ experiences looked like, I worried my entire semester would be, and that only made me more stressed and anxious. It’s important to understand that everyone’s study abroad experience is different, and yours will probably be best if you don’t compare it to anyone else’s. A couple days after my initial panic, I sat with a few new friends in our flat as one of my flatmates interpreted a tarot card; “This is a sign to understand that some things on this journey will be meant for you and some won’t,” she said. I needed to hear that, and if you find yourself in a similar situation (without a wise, tarot card-reading flatmate), I hope that helps.
#3: Make a list of the sights you want to see during your time abroad, and don’t wait start adding to your calendar.
Do this sooner, rather than later. If there are certain places in your new city that are priorities for you to visit while you are there, start making plans to go. It’s easy to put your study abroad bucket list on the back burner at the beginning of your semester because you “still have plenty of time to see everything.” It should be fun going to visit those sights and crossing items off your ‘must see’ list, so don’t let it be a source of stress, but know that if you keep waiting until “later in the semester,” it might not happen. Plus, you might want to return to one of the places, or something you see might introduce you to a new part of your city that you want to check out in the future!
#4: You don’t need to be doing something ‘cool’ all the time while you are abroad.
It’s easy to look at study abroad students’ social media profiles and feel like your peers abroad are always out doing cool stuff. Well, odds are they aren’t. Especially if you are abroad for an entire semester, being on the go all the time simply isn’t sustainable (or cheap), and that is OK. You are 100% allowed to take a night, a weekend, a week, or as long as you want to relax and give yourself a break. This is a new experience, and while it can be extremely exciting and thrilling, it can quickly become exhausting and overwhelming if you don’t take any time to just be. It’s a great time to try new things and say yes to opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone to help you grow. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t say no if you just don’t feel like it. You might feel like there is pressure to be out ‘doing something cool’ all the time because you are in ________ and you have the opportunity to do so; spoiler– nobody is ‘doing something cool’ all the time, even if it seems like it on social media.
The world awaits you. Remember that this experience is yours! You will meet new people (even if it takes time), explore new places, make mistakes, have moments of both excitement and exhaustion, and see that not everything will go to plan no matter how hard you try, and that is OK. Good luck & Roll Tide!