Study Abroad: Expectations vs. Reality

I thought I was well-prepared, but no amount of pre-departure meetings and countless e-mails to my ever so tolerant adviser could have prepared me for the realities of studying abroad.

You don’t get as much attention for being a foreigner as much you think. When I first came abroad, every time I checked out at the grocery store, asked a classmate a question or spoke for any other reason, I was holding my breath for someone to make a comment about my accent. I was told that would be a good way to interest people and make friends. My accent was commented on exactly once in my first term abroad, and I’m pretty sure the commentator was drunk.

You quickly realize your host country is over romanticized. When I tell people I’m studying in England, they probably think of the hustle and bustle of London, handsome British people with accents to die for and drinking tea. Okay, the tea part is totally true, but England isn’t just London, in fact, London is crowded, overwhelming and expensive and I try to avoid it at all costs. While a lot of British people are easy on the eyes, the novelty of the accents wears off and it becomes what you’re used to. It goes unsaid that I still love England, not only because of the good things, but also despite the bad.

You don’t stay in touch with friends and family back home as much as you’d like. When I came abroad, I was determined to see my friends often, however, with the seven hour time difference and all of us having our own lives, it’s hard to set aside time to catch up. But it’s comforting to know that they’re still with me in spirit and you make plenty of other friends to share your experiences with.

You set your expectations too high. While it’s strongly encouraged to see as much as you can during your time abroad, traveling can suck sometimes. I’ve been fined, lost items, slept in airports, missed trains, had a friend get seriously ill and much more. No amount of research and planning can prepare you for these kinds of curveballs, but you quickly learn to roll with the punches (trust me, if I can, so can you). Be realistic regarding time, money, studies and more.

Not every single day is filled with a life-altering experience. You’re not always on the go, setting out on adventures, meeting new people or having some meaningful cultural experience. The vast majority of studying abroad is just living… but in a different country. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but it may not be as glamorous as other people think.

But this is all okay, because it makes me feel like I’m living rather than just on vacation. Even though the miserable England weather killed the vacation vibe anyway.


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