Study abroad has taught me more about life, people, and myself than any classroom could ever do. That may be the cheesiest statement I have ever produced, but it really is true. I have seen some amazing things, done unforgettable stuff, and met some remarkable people. I have study abroad to thank for all of it. When I talk to my friends back home about my travels, some of the first things that come out of my mouth are telling them to explore their own study abroad options because there is no true way of describing study abroad unless you have done it yourself. Big advocate!
That being said, it is not as glamorous as one may imagine. In fact, it is surprisingly difficult at times. After participating on two study abroads, here are five things that I wish I knew before going.
- You will most likely hate the first week or two
-The first week for me is always the worst. You will most likely spend a majority of your time in your room because you have no idea where anything in campus or around the city is located. I remember on one of my first days at York, I walked around for about an hour until I found a place where I could purchase food. In Singapore (my first exchange) I walked around for hours looking for air conditioning! This happens because you usually arrive on campus before all the scheduled orientations, so you basically know absolutely no one nor no place and spend most of your time in your room.
- Utilize the Orientations provided for exchange students
-I hate to burst any potential exchangers bubble but be prepared to sit in a BUNCH of mandatory meetings about all things on your host university. Some will be cool (at York, they had this long meeting for exchange students and during it they talked all about the history of York City dating back to the Vikings. I loved that!) but most will be downright awful. I say utilize these meetings because it is your first time seeing all the other exchange students who are also desperately looking for friends, so they can get out of their own room as well. This is a prime time to meet new friends and develop some amazing relationships for the rest of your study abroad.
- The locals may ostracize you
-This just depends all on where you choose to study, but I have been on both sides of the boat here. All the locals are usually very kind and want to help, but that does not necessarily mean they want to be around you. When I was in Singapore, no Singaporean was going to talk to me unless I spoke to them first. Even after I would establish a relationship, I was still not going to be messaged to hang out or anything along those lines. On the contrary, in York I was immediately incorporated into my floormates friend group! Obviously, this is simply cultural differences, but do not be surprised if you leave your study abroad without many (or any) friends from your host country.
- School still comes first
-Ever notice how few people really think about the school part when they think of STUDY abroad? Usually the things people ask me about my exchange are, “Oh where are you going this weekend?”; “What is it like?”; “How many places have you seen?”; “Why are you so beautiful?” you know all of the typical questions! Rarely does anyone but my mom ever ask, “How is school going?” It may not be the first thing people think of, even me for that matter, but it can easily slip away from you. With all the need to see as much as you can and do as much as you can do, school can easily slip away from you. I have been the one that would go out and have fun because that’s “the thing” to do when on exchange but was only met with missing out on other things down the line because I had to hibernate in my room to get the work done. In addition, Drexel has some incredibly high ranked partners that are on par with the Ivy League, so slacking off in those schools is probably the worst of ideas.
- Goodbyes are extra difficult
-This may be an easy one, but there is a unique kind of bond that you form
with people on exchange. I like to relate it to your first semester in college when you weren’t afraid to go around and say hi to absolutely anyone and everyone. All these students are in a foreign land and are just trying to make friends so that they can experience it all together. Since there aren’t many people to meet, you all stick together and spend every waking moment with each other. Once you’re friends for about two weeks, you already ask each other where to travel together and set off. After traveling everywhere together, eating every meal together, going out together, exploring your host city together, you can only imagine how close you get with these people on your exchange. So when it ends, it is indescribably heartbreaking.
No matter how hard studying abroad can be it will never outweigh the memories and experiences you will encounter. Every low I have ever had has a high about twice its size. Every bad memory I’ve had fades by the plentiful good ones. All mistakes I’ve made are overshadowed by massive successes I’ve done. In the end, study abroad can be difficult, but the reward is so much greater! Study Abroad = Unimaginable Opportunities.