What to Expect [and what not to Expect] when Studying Abroad
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants did us all a disservice when it romanticized the elation and euphoria that is the typical study-abroad experience. According to the movies of old, and new – the various Instagram posts you see of people enjoying themselves amongst exotic backgrounds – when you study abroad, you are living a once-in-a-lifetime dream. You are a celebrity, and the world is your fan-base.
This is not true.
Well, it is true in the sense that you get to develop yourself in a new environment and broaden your perspective of culture. You get to learn new customs and figure out your true place in the makeup of the world. It’s an incredible experience getting to be someplace where no one knows you – each day is a new and tangible discovery of a life different than your own.
But what everyone fails to mention are the hardships. They don’t tell you about the roommate who will steal €20 from your wallet in the same room you share together, or the group of international ‘friends’ who will isolate and exclude you from events, just because you choose not to conform to their cultural understandings. What they don’t tell you is that sometimes, you will have to find alternative means to campus because the country (in my case, France) is undergoing a bus-strike, and no one, not even the university administration, cares to do anything about it. They don’t tell you that you can run out of money. They don’t tell you that, unless you’ve come on this trip with someone else, most of your excursions abroad will be alone.
They don’t tell you that it takes strength to explore.
Studying abroad is not for the weak and heavy-hearted. People do not go to the restroom together, or wait for you to make it to the club on time. The help you receive is the help you find.
It is an individual activity; a moment of self-reflection – where you find who you are, and who you want to be. And sometimes, people aren’t always going to like the way you do things, just like you aren’t always going to like the way others go about their day.
But studying abroad isn’t really about people. Sure it’s about getting to know different cultures, and interacting with knew people along the way, but if you’re going for the benefit of others, you’re going for the wrong reasons.
Yes, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But not for the photos or the architecture or the exoticism (though these are nifty bonuses). This is the one time in your life where you get to see the world for what it actually is. From an outside perspective. You get to see how the world treats itself, and how you treat the world.
If it wasn’t for my study abroad experience, I would have never developed the courage to pursue creative writing as my active profession.
But you only get one life. And you only get one body. And there’s no sense wasting both trying to please people who have no impact or jurisdiction, whatsoever, on the evolution of your life.
So while studying abroad may not bring you lifelong friends, or blockbuster moments, it will bring you to yourself.
It will give you experiences like no other, amazing views of the world only seen through history, and it will teach you lessons. About the world. About people. About exploration itself.