Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Dyimond Anderson
I really thought that I was going to be able to provide some deep “Eat, Pray, Love” knowledge and leave everyone completely enlightened on what traveling and studying abroad is like. Well, the thing is, I was totally and completely wrong; but, surprisingly, there is so much good news in that truth. I really cannot give an all-encompassing answer for what being abroad in another country for an extended amount of time is or will be like, as I’ve just started my three-month journey in Granada, Spain. I can only tell you what I am finding out little by little. It’s like I’m building. But the thing about this structure is that it’s not some completely new building unattached from every other experience in my life; it’s being added on like a room to an old house. It’s a continuation and a part of life that I will try my hardest to enjoy every moment of while it prepares me for what is to come.
Here is a list of some of the things you may have thought about or asked people before going abroad, but that you can’t fully know until you get there.
1. It is 100% possible to feel homesick and be completely in love with your travel destination at the same time.
For me, this is probably what hit me the most. Before coming abroad, I tried to drown myself in family time. When I left the U.S. I was thinking, “Oh, it’s no big deal. I can FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.” I had no idea how much that would not suffice. Yet, oddly enough, if given the opportunity, I would not go home yet. The pace of the culture, the smells, the sights, even the sounds are beyond my wildest expectations. So if you get abroad and feel this way, don’t worry; it’s normal. My roommate and other members of the group I am traveling with all are going through the same thing! Hang tough.
2. Even if you are a fluent speaker of the language in your travel destination, culture shock is still very real.
After four years of Spanish at my home university, I was sure that being immersed in the culture would “bring out the best” in my speaking (psh!). Upon arrival my roommate (more fluent in the language than me and having had experience teaching English to Spanish speakers in the U.S.) and I were overwhelmed at how much we did not know how to say once we were introduced to our host mom (who, for the record, speaks extremely quickly in Spanish and knows basically no English). The point of this being on the list is that you must allow yourself to be a beginner. Relax, adjust, and excel. By the time your trip is over you will have improved immensely (at least, that’s what they keep telling me!).
3. You can and should allow yourself to go out of your comfort zone and have fun.
This may sound really crazy to say, but I have had to remind myself of this since being here. It’s like I froze up or something! I’m worried about how much money I’ve spent or getting lost or breaking some rule. I want to add a quick disclaimer here: I am not advocating losing your mind and going crazy once you get abroad! As one of my Program Directors put it, “This is not Spring Break.” All this means is don’t put yourself in compromising and/or dangerous situations. But even with this “rule” there is always so much to enjoy! Go have a drink with friends if that’s your thing – they are really good here! Just be wise. Go explore the city and get lost. Just don’t go alone or too late. Explore, you guys. Talk to locals in the shops and restaurants. Find out about local cultural events and attend them. You do not want to get back home and only be able to say that you studied and watched Netflix movies in the native language.
4. You need to pay attention to and analyze the differences.
This one is something I still have to be pretty deliberate about. Back home all of my loved ones are always telling me, “You need to pay more attention to your surroundings,” so when I decided to study abroad I began practicing this. Doing this not only aids in my remaining safe, but it also brings me back down to earth. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about learning to do this is that you begin to learn more about yourself and the country from which you came. You develop an understanding that was limited by your previous surroundings. You notice an appreciation for your life back home but also a sort of sorrow concerning the things that your home country so desperately needs to improve. When you learn to do this, it helps to push you to get outside of yourself; to look but also see; to hear but also listen; and to think a little longer before speaking. I know that this is my first post, and I have not been here long, but it’s just that powerful of a thing.
5. It’s crucial to keep your loved ones updated.
This is harder sometimes than it sounds because of time differences and hectic schedules, but do SOMETHING. Many of my fellow group members are doing things like posting pictures, creating their own travel hashtags, uploading pictures into group messages, buying local minutes and actually talking about their day. Whatever and however you want, just make sure that your loved ones know about the time you are having abroad. It will make your relationships stronger. I have been thanked so much by my friends and family for “letting them be a part of my journey” and “taking them through this experience with me.” People are rooting for you; they are happy for you. Let them know you are grateful for their support through your actions.
So hopefully now you have a better idea of what to expect and an even bigger urge to just get out there and go abroad! AIFS is an amazing program to check out if you don’t know where to begin. They have amazing package deals (notice that my group and I had a stop in London, England before arriving in Spain – I’m just saying!). Until next time…