Prior to studying abroad, I read countless blog posts and articles from every study abroad site imaginable. Most of them promised to tell me *new information* on what I should know before studying abroad, but each one inevitably told me the same tired clichés (which, I should add, have yet to help me). Here are a few things no one tells you about studying abroad–or at least, they certainly didn’t tell me–but these are things I wish I knew before studying abroad.
You don’t have to like everyone you study abroad with.
I know a lot of people who’ve gone abroad, and they rave about the people they met. Sure, it’s true–going abroad means encountering people from countless backgrounds whose paths you might not have otherwise crossed. But just because you’re living in the same country doesn’t mean you’re kindred spirits, destined to be friends for life–and that’s okay. You’re abroad because you want to learn about yourself and grow as a person, not to make your new best friend. If you do, that’s just a bonus.
Not every day needs to be extraordinary.
There will be pressure to have a busy schedule every day, packed with exploring, coffee shops, and lots of grammable photos. And trust me, you will have those days (lots of them!). But the days when you sit around your apartment in your sweatpants making pasta and reading textbooks will happen. When they do, don’t beat yourself up. Those days are the ones that will make your host city feel like home. They’re the days when you feel like you truly live there.
Not every weekend needs to be booked with travel.
It’s true: travel within Europe is (relatively) cheap and easy. And yes, it’s possible to travel every weekend. But I’m here to tell you not to do that. Please don’t do that. Maybe it’s just me, but traveling is exhausting. And while hostels and hot chocolates are cheap, they add up if you’re constantly out and about. More than that, if you’re always on another train, you’re not getting to experience the city you’re supposed to be living in. Instead of visiting different countries, explore your city, or take short day-trips within your country to learn more about the culture and national community.
Join a local group.
One of the best things I did upon moving to Prague was joining a bible study my friend’s friend told me about. (Oh, another thing: it’s a small world out there. People you meet abroad will know people from your hometown. Weird, I know.) But by joining this group, I added a sense of regularity to my weekly routine. I went to the same apartment every Thursday, had a home-cooked meal, and got to hang out with both Czech locals and other ex-pat students (these are Americans who study in Prague full-time!). The group gave me a taste of what Czech culture is actually like, and even helped me improve my grasp on the (oh-so-challenging) language. It also helped me branch out of the “study abroad program bubble” and meet people who shared my values and interests. Now, I can’t imagine my Prague experience without it.
Don’t treat your experience like an extended vacation.
Build yourself a home. If you’re always trying new restaurants or walking around the tourist district, you’ll continue to feel like an outsider and it will feel like you’re just on a really, really, really long vacation. But by going to the same neighborhood cafés to study or to the same farmer’s markets for produce, you’ll start to get to know the baristas and other locals, truly becoming part of the community. Take time to go read a book in the park, or picnic by the river and just relax. Building a home like this will make your life fuller and your experience all the more rich.
This is my take on the things no one tells you about studying abroad–what do you wish someone told you before you studied abroad? Let me know in the comments below!
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