A Pedacito of Being an Abroad Student
Studying abroad during my last semester of college was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one of the best decisions ever made. But there are a few realities about being an abroad student that I wasn’t aware of, ones I wished someone had shared with me. So, I want to share them with you to help you best prepare for an experience living abroad.
Want to learn about another study abroad experience? Check out Storyteller Emmy's article "A Pedacito of Conversation in Seville, Spain."
My experience abroad looks exactly like anyone else’s. My Instagram is filled with photos of myself in places like Madrid, Santorini, or Amsterdam. My camera roll is overflowing with pictures of my travels. I was buying flights and planning trips every other weekend. I was a part-time student and a part-time traveler. Like everyone else, when I came home, all anyone wanted to hear was about my travels.
But behind the scenes, living as a student abroad in London didn’t look like that. I still had classes almost every day and assignments to complete. I was struggling to afford my own living expenses while somehow funding my many expenditures. I spent 3 out of the 4 months living abroad sick with viruses and upper respiratory issues. And because it rains half the year in London, many of my days were spent inside my flat, trying to manage my depression while staring at the raindrops on the window.
We often think that going on a trip or vacation means that everything is going to be perfect. In some cases, that is completely achievable with a well-planned itinerary and ample preparation. But sometimes flights are late or canceled, hotel lodging leaves much to be desired, and the weather isn’t favorable. Or, you might find yourself standing in Paris with no clue why you feel as terrible as you do, and frustrated for feeling that way in one of the most beautiful cities in the world like I did.
To this day, one of my favorite trips to share stories about is Paris. But I don’t like to talk about seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. Instead, I describe the time I sat alone one rainy night in a restaurant eating crème brûlée and having an unexpected conversation with friendly strangers that lifted my spirits. This trip was an important realization for me, so I’d like to share a few pieces of advice:
Prolonged travel is exhausting – Spending so much time on the road is tiring. By the end of my trip, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally drained from so much stimulation and movement. I highly suggest pacing your trips to allow for rest days.
Don’t be overly ambitious – Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to squeeze in everything you want to do in the time you have. There are always opportunities to return to any travel location at a later date.
University abroad programs differ – While my academic workload was light, some of my peers from other schools barely had time to travel between assignments and internships. Make sure you fully research your school’s abroad program before applying.
Set fair expectations – As an abroad student, not everything will go as planned or expected. It’s important to do extensive research and set fair expectations for trips and travel experiences.
You still have off days – Sometimes, being in a beautiful place isn’t enough to lift the spirits. On days like these, be kind to yourself and plan a day for rest and relaxation.
Mental health and wellness don’t take a backseat just because you find yourself on a backpacking trip somewhere else in the world. And neither do illness, or financial hardship, or relationship complications. I am forever grateful for my experience as an abroad student and this is not meant to discourage anyone from deciding to study abroad in college. Rather, I want to lift the curtain and reveal the reality of being human, which doesn’t change when you go somewhere else.
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