When you sign up for a study abroad program, you have no idea what it will feel like to live in another country. You might think that you will miss your home or that you will see and try new things every day. A semester abroad will probably be one of the best experiences of your life but it will take you on an emotional roller coaster: happy, sad…excited, homesick, independent…
Chances are, you will have feelings and emotions you have never had before, but it is OK. You probably never had to move to a different country before, either. Of course, everyone has different experiences and this might not be applicable to everyone,but for me study abroad experience went like this:
Before You Leave to Study Abroad
The first stage you’ll probably go through is excitement. After hours paperwork and preparation, you’re actually getting to study abroad! You start to realize all the benefits of studying abroad like being completely independent. When it comes to decisions you have to make, the only person you have to agree with is you. The only limits that exist are the ones you choose yourself! You will also learn more about yourself: being alone with your thoughts can mean a change on how you see yourself, your future and the world.
When I was leaving for my study abroad, I still couldn’t believe I was going to be leaving home. It just didn’t feel real. I had ideas floating around in my mind about what things would be like – but it all felt so distant. It’s a good idea to make packing lists and checklists weeks in advance, but the last few days will still be very stressful, with lots of last minute errands. You can never be completely ready for your trip!
You might also be a little scared before you actually leave to go to study abroad. This can sneak up on you the moment you step foot on your plane. You can’t help but wonder if what you’re doing is the right decision. The first time I left, I was 15 and I couldn’t imagine what life without my parents would be like. But hey, that should sound encouraging: if a 15 year-old mommy’s girl could spend 10 months by herself and have the experience of a lifetime, so can you! And if you have any fears or doubts, connect with me in the comments below and let’s talk!
On The Way to Your Destination
The idea of studying abroad is very cool, but the reality of leaving home can be pretty scary. Ultimately, you should focus on what’s ahead! When you find your seat on the plane, think about what you need to do when you get off, stay alert and try to remember every detail of this amazing adventure! There is no other feeling like looking through the airplane window and seeing the city you will live in for the next months.
When You Arrive
Just knowing you had made it abroad is exhilarating! Once again, focus on going through customs, getting your luggage and getting to the city. The drive in was so amazing that I couldn’t help but smile the whole way. You might also feel overwhelmed seeing and hearing a completely different language! When you arrive, have a good night sleep as you are probably jet lagged so that you are ready to explore the next day!
First Week Abroad
To me, the first week is always the most exciting and the most memorable. At orientation, I met new people from my program and you can start exploring the city. When I spent a semester in Spain, I was with other international students, making new friends was easier than I thought it would be. Classes started in a few days which added some structure to my days. At this time you are just getting used to your new home, you are exploring, you are full of new emotions and it’s wonderful! Hold on to these feelings for as long as you can!
Getting Used to the New Place
After about a month, you get used to it. The initial excitement of being in a new country wears off, and you start missing your friends and family. Some people call it homesickness. It can stop you from enjoying this experience and it is normal. You need to acknowledge it and make yourself feel better. It’s a part of it: you have to deal with loneliness by yourself. If you’re studying abroad alone, then chances are that sometimes you’ll feel homesick. Even if you’re surrounded by new and interesting people, you can sometimes miss having others who are similar to you culture-wise or language-wise. There are many things you can do to reduce homesickness abroad and don’t forget the 15-year old me who could barely spend a weekend by herself before her big adventure.
It took a couple more weeks of homesickness before I officially settle into your new home. By that time, you will find new friends to hang out with, get used to your professors and classes. You will have your new go-tos in the local grocery store and maybe even a few of your favorite restaurants. For example, after a couple months in Barcelona, I knew my way around town, I started getting used to the language and to the smell of oranges growing on the trees… The city had become my new home!
Everywhere you go, you leave a piece of your heart. Your study abroad will change you forever. The problem with feeling at home abroad is that it makes leaving much harder. After several months, I felt anxious. I knew it was time to go soon and that left me in the weird stage. I wasn’t ready to go, but I was counting days until I left. Saying goodbye to your new city is more sad than happy. I didn’t know what to do with myself or how to spend the last precious days. If I were to do it again, I would recommend you try to see the things you wanted but haven’t done yet. Go to that restaurant that looked cool but you never ate there or that museum you have been putting off. Spend the 5 hours on the beach, listening to the waves and eating fruit – you never know when you will be back again.
Coming Back to Your Family
Reverse culture shock can be just as bad, if not worse, than regular culture shock. While the initial excitement of seeing my family and my hometown was amazing, I immediately started to feel homesick for the city I left. I kept comparing everything to Barcelona, out loud and even though they didn’t say, people around me got tired of it quickly. It was hard to relate to those who never left their country. It was months before it stopped being the main topic of my every conversation! And as for being homesick for Barcelona… well, it’s been two years and I still listen to Spanish music in my free time and write blog posts about it!
Are you still looking for a study abroad program? I wrote a few tips about finding affordable study abroad options here.
Tell me: Are you about to leave or did you just come back from studying abroad? Have you gone through the same stages as me? Let me know in the comments below if you can relate to any of these!