5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Study Abroad

Written by Kelsey V. March 31, 2015

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Enjoying the views in Croatia

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Just some friends hiking Cinque Terre!

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For years, students from all over the world have flocked to Europe seeking a supercharged study abroad experience. We come bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on the world. We have visions of the semester ahead of us perfected to a tee.

If you’re anything like me, you may even spend hours on the Internet reading about others’ study abroad experiences gallivanting through Europe. But what don’t the articles say? What can’t you learn from your academic advisor or through your travel books? After being here almost three months, I feel confident to share with you 5 things they DON’T tell you about study abroad before you come (but that are completely awesome).

  1. Things aren’t always going to go as planned. Trust me on this one. You’re going to miss a plane, a train or a bus. You’re going to get turned around in cities you don’t know looking for places you can’t find with people who are just as lost as you are. It’s not the end of the world. Sometimes veering from the beaten path is the best thing you can do for yourself. This is how you find authentic, local restaurants and stumble upon beautiful buildings that you never planned to see. This is how you grow as a person and learn to cope with change. I’ve learned to accept (and rather enjoy) when my plans change and take the opportunity to try something new. When things seem to be going wrong, I’ve learned to just think about the bigger picture and how incredibly lucky I am to be spending three months traveling all around Europe. There are much worse things that could happen than missing a bus or having a changed flight- and I’ve come to realize that!
  2. You’re going to be homesick. I’m not going to sugarcoat this one- it happens! Being homesick isn’t something you should feel guilty about, though. Being homesick only means that you have such a great support system at home that you can’t help but miss them! However, it gets easier. For me, as CIMBA went on, I found myself being less and less homesick because of the growing support system I found here in Italy. When I did feel homesick, it was easy to go to my friend’s room down the hall and grab her to get gelato with me. You build relationships that you know you will miss as soon as you leave CIMBA, much like the relationships you find yourself missing at home.
  3. You will step outside of your comfort zone. This one shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to you, but I felt it was necessary to include. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a local trying to speak to me in Italian that I can’t understand. But these are some of the best experiences! I’ve learned to speak the language (enough to get by) and actually shared some pretty cool experiences due to language barriers. None of this would’ve happened had I never pushed my boundaries. You might sleep in hostels with strangers or be jam-packed on a train in a different car as your friends. This is how you meet new people and supercharge your experience abroad, and I promise it’s worth it.
  4. You’ll learn to appreciate being alone. Before coming abroad, I saw doing things alone as a sign of weakness. I wasn’t comfortable going out to eat alone or even running most of my errands alone. Going abroad makes you independent and fearless. Some of my best experiences have not been shared with anybody but myself. A lot of people in the program actually choose to travel alone for a weekend or two because they love it so much! It really enables you to learn so much about yourself. I no longer see being alone as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of strength.
  5. You won’t always have WiFi. Even when you do, it may not be like the WiFi you are used to at home. I can’t stress this enough- THIS IS THE BEST THING THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN TO YOU. You will learn to detach from your phone and enjoy living in the moment. Last weekend, 70 of us Cimbians went to Cinque Terre together. Many of us did not have WiFi for the entire weekend, and we agreed unanimously that this was the best weekend yet. We called it a “no Wifi weekend” and it was incredible! We were able to just sit back, relax, and enjoy life as it happened before our eyes- not through our phone screens.

 “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” -Miriam Adeney