Anyone who follows my Instagram would probably tell you that I’m having the time of my life abroad. And while, on some level, that’s true, it’s also important to point out that studying abroad isn’t a constant party, either.
I don’t write this to complain or to discourage anyone from studying abroad. Studying abroad is truly one of the best things I have ever done, but it’s also not an effective way to escape reality or blow off responsibilities.
You still have to do boring daily tasks (of course).
Oh how wonderful it would be if studying abroad meant I didn’t have to do homework or buy groceries. While many of the experiences I’ve had really do feel as magical as they look on Instagram, a lot of my experiences abroad are pretty ordinary. Of course I’m not going to post about it on social media, but as a study abroad student, I still go grocery shopping, do laundry, stay up too late writing papers when I’d rather be out having fun and gasp, go to class (shocking, I know). Since I am alone in an unfamiliar environment, I actually feel that I have more responsibilities abroad than I normally do as a college student.
You can’t really escape your problems.
Before I went abroad, I was feeling pretty down about a lot of things. When I found out I had been accepted into a study abroad program, I was so excited to just get away for a little while. But that’s not quite how things work. My feelings of doubt and uncertainty had little to do with the environment I was in. I traveled far from where I was before, but my problems still came with me. The change in routine certainly helped, but I can’t pretend that you can just hop on a plane and escape all of your problems. Your problems will likely study abroad with you.
Sometimes bad things happen, no matter where you are in the world.
I love the city I’m in. Most days here are incredible. But that doesn’t stop real life from happening. During my second month abroad, I woke up with a terrible stomach ache. I thought maybe I just hadn’t gotten enough sleep because I stayed up too late studying. As days passed and I still didn’t feel any better, I told the director of my program that I was feeling sick and she took me to the hospital. The first time I went to the hospital, I was told that I probably just ate bad food and I would feel better in a few days. A few days passed and I could hardly move. I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I was in so much pain. Two more hospital visits later and I found out that my gallbladder was inflamed because my body wasn’t used to the spicy and oily food. Oh, and I had strep throat at the same time. Some days are incredible, but I also spent two weeks of my semester abroad lying in bed and visiting the hospital.
Learning a new language is hard.
I’m studying Chinese and while I absolutely love learning the language, sometimes it’s really, really difficult. I’ll have a great day where I communicate (fairly) smoothly and feel (fairly) confident in my abilities. Then, the next day, no one will understand what I’m saying and I’ll feel super discouraged. Sometimes it might seem like it would be easier to not learn the local language, but learning the language opens up so many doors and allows you to be more immersed in the local culture. It can be draining. It can be discouraging. But I also believe it’s worthwhile.
You won’t be swimming in an infinite pool of money.
Sometimes it seems like study abroad students have infinite pools of money that allow them to hop between countries every weekend. Maybe some study abroad students do have a lot of money, but this is not always the case. For me, one of the hardest things about studying abroad has been managing money. I feel very fortunate to be able to afford studying abroad, and I’ve spent most of my time in the city I’m studying in. Sure, it would be great to travel to more places but staying in this city has allowed me to meet more friends, immerse myself in the local culture, and feel at home here. Plus, being on a budget has taught me a lot about managing my money.
You’ll have bad days.
I said studying abroad isn’t a constant party. Some days, however, are tons of fun and are surely more enjoyable than a party back in my college town. But just like anywhere, you’ll inevitably have bad days, even if you’re a positive, adventurous person. Being in a place that’s new to you isn’t always easy. In fact, it often isn’t easy. Sometimes things that would be simple tasks for you at home are really difficult to figure out in your new environment. Sometimes it will feel like you’re doing everything wrong. Sometimes it can feel like you’re missing out on things at home.
Sometimes you will struggle and sometimes you will have to muster up a level of independence that you didn’t know you could reach. Studying abroad is a great way to challenge your perspectives, expose you to new people and places, and teach you about things you didn’t even know existed. It’s (usually) not a way to party your semester away. It’s better than that.