It’s easy to go into the study abroad process thinking you know what to expect — or at least, that’s what I did. Lounging through meetings at the Reves Center, it’s surprising how easy things are to miss, but I found myself wondering if the things I’ve been discovering are things that you would be warned about while preparing to study abroad. Here are the two biggest things that contrast with the official story:
“Missing home is normal.”
What would have been nice to know: Late October and early November are the tough parts; make it through that and you’ll be fine.
The party line seems to be that simply saying that “missing home is normal” will be enough to get students through missing home. But it turns out that everyone thinks they miss home at the beginning, and then October and November come along, and they realize what it’s really like to miss home — and there’s just something about it that your new study abroad friends don’t really get.
How to get through it: The clichéd advice is that you should put yourself out there and you’ll get past it. This is entirely predicated on the idea that you will have the energy to keep putting yourself out there for months at a time, which is fanciful at best. It’s just like freshman year — people tell you to sign up for all the cool-sounding clubs, but you’d have to be insane to try to go to every club you’re now on the email list for (here’s looking at my third year on the Wizards and Muggles email list without ever going to a meeting). Get involved with one thing you’re good at and put yourself out there within that group; nothing is more irritatingly pointless than kind of knowing lots of people when it’s far more rewarding to know a few people really well.
“You’ll meet so many new people and have so many adventures!”
What would have been nice to know: There is honestly a point where the idea of meeting a new person just makes you tired. And that’s OK.
The one thing I’ve heard everyone come back and say is how great it was that they were meeting new people all the time. Now I’m not the most outgoing person in the world, but while there are so many people out there to meet, it doesn’t mean you must— or even that you should try — to meet them all. Being patient and waiting to meet people builds much better relationships than going out drinking with a different group of people every night for two weeks straight. All that going out and meeting the entirety of the student body does for you is give you people to nod at on your walk to class as your wallet sits empty in your pocket.
To people expecting to reprise the entirety of the National Lampoon movie series while abroad: Take the time to invest in other people or nobody will invest the emotional capital in you. Then when it’s late October/early November and you’re missing home and want to talk to someone about it, you’ll have close friends who will help you through. Making those kinds of relationship with people from all over the world is what studying abroad should be about — and when I see these people again in the years to come, I know we’ll be able to pick up where we left off.