You hear every study abroad student simply rave about the amazing time they had abroad and how it was the best time of their life. You hear the girl that went skydiving in the Swiss Alps, or your roommate that made so many new friends. You hear of the students that travelled to a new country every weekend, exploring another part of the world. You hear of the amazing food that made your friend gain ten pounds.
As you begin to hear these stories, you start forming many expectations for how your study abroad semester or summer will be. You begin to think that you’ll meet the best of friends, and get to travel the world, to every city in Europe. You think, who knows – maybe I’ll find my prince charming in Rome. You form these expectations of your time abroad – how your roommate abroad will become your best friend. And obviously by the time you leave, surely you’ll be fluent in French.
As you begin your time abroad, none of these expectations are happening and you instantly become a little angry at yourself for having such high expectations. You become frustrated that you can only travel to five different countries and your prince charming that you’ll race off in a Vespa with is nowhere in sight. And then you become homesick – you miss your friends at college, your family and of course, your dog.
And just when you’re starting to think that maybe this whole ‘study abroad’ idea was a bad one, it all just clicks. And suddenly, you have your ‘aha’ moment. Everyone’s ‘aha’ moment is different but every single student has one. It’s different for everyone, and comes at a unique time for everyone too. I remember mine vividly. I was coming home from my first weekend trip to Switzerland and it was a pretty long ride back to Florence. Everyone was ready to get off the smelly, over-filled bus, including myself. I had a great time in Switzerland, skiing the Swiss Alps but there was something still that didn’t quite click with my study abroad experience. I was waiting for it, but I thought maybe it would never happen. We finally got back to Florence, and I had never been so excited. We were driving through the streets of Florence until we made it to the train station. As we got out of the bus, and began walking back to our apartment, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Wow! This is my home for the next four months.’ Everything in the city instantly became exceptionally beautiful, and my jaw dropped numerous times. I was 100% speechless because it had finally hit me that I was living in Florence, Italy. I finally realized that these four months cannot be wasted.
Four months later, I had to say goodbye to not only my new home, Florence, but also my new best friends that had become my family while abroad. I look back at my time abroad and am amazed by how much it exceeded my expectations. It was never perfect, that’s for sure, and it never aligned with the expectations I had going in, but I couldn’t have asked for a better time with better people. I learned more about myself in those four months than I had the previous twenty years. Studying abroad is a time where there cannot be expectations because they will be broken again and again. And just remember, your ‘aha’ moment will come, you may just have to give it a push.