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5 Stereotypes About Study Abroad That May Not Always Be True

by Samantha Strausser
Study abroad student in Europe

1. Traveling will fuel your energy.

Traveling can be exhausting. There’s a certain glamour that surrounds the idea of going to a new country every weekend. If I’ve learned anything from my time traveling, it’s that it can be tiring. By happenstance, my recent trip to Madrid consisted of two all-nighters, one mental breakdown, and food-poisoning. Needless to say, I came home and slept for an entire day. While I greatly enjoyed getting to experience Spanish culture and seeing the city, the go-go-go traveling reminded me that it’s okay to spend time in London and truly get to know the town I’m studying in rather than being strictly focused on constant travel. I learned that the spontaneity in quickly booking a week end getaway may not be as glamorous as it sounds — even though it may be great for some people. I learned that there are many moving pieces in booking a trip; it’s not simply clicking a button and zipping away.

While traveling may not fuel your energy and feel exhausting at times, I’ve never regretted going on a trip. Everything you do while abroad is a learning experience, and even through the jetlag and sleepless nights, I greatly enjoy experiencing a new culture and getting to explore a new place. Just remember that balance is key.

2. You’ll never have a bad day.

Crying is normal. If there’s one thing I’ve learned here, it’s that it’s okay to cry. Sometimes there’s a reason, and many times there isn’t one. Sometimes life gets overwhelming and something small, like looking the wrong way when crossing the street, will remind you that you’re not at home, but in a foreign country. However, just because I have tough days does not mean I’m compromising my abroad experience. Just because there are times when I wish I was back home in the same timezone as my parents does not interfere with the fact that I’m learning and growing while abroad. Coming here, I was convinced I’d wake up with a smile on my face every day: that’s not the case, and it’s okay.

Needless to say, you’re going to have amazing days, as well. There will be days where you look around and are in awe that you had the courage to move across the world for a semester. These are the days that make the more challenging ones worthwhile.

3. School is easy.

Balancing schoolwork is important. While the first word of study abroad is “study,” many people brushed over that when telling me about their experiences. They focused on the travel, the food, the culture, the atmosphere, but never actually got to the schoolwork.

For me, school was tough to balance when adapting to a new culture and wanting to travel. It can be hard to sacrifice a day to sit in the library and study, but this is important. The school system in London is different than in America — there aren’t constant assignments that compose your grade, but rather a paper, a midterm, and a final. This new system still worries me as I frantically try and write my papers and balance seeing London, traveling, and maintaining a healthy routine. There are times when I feel like I’m trying to balance too much at once, and everything is going to break and crash. In those times, I take a step back and prioritize.

Schoolwork is important, but so is mental sanity. It’s okay to take a day off and lay in bed. It’s okay to see a Counselor or have a close friend that you talk to about your struggles. In my opinion, one of the most important parts in being abroad is learning about yourself. So put yourself first, not travel or rushing to have a new experience. I’ve found that by putting myself first, I’ve become happier.

4. It’s just like what you see online.

Social media can be deceiving. I’m a huge victim of this. Even on the days I felt sick and tired, I posted smiling photos with upbeat captions to convince everybody that I was having the time of my life. People post the highlights on social media, rarely the more challenging parts of studying abroad. It can be hard not to constantly compare yourself to others’ experiences when you see these amazing photos, but it’s important to keep in mind that everybody is only sharing what they want to share. People keep their low moments concealed and their amazing moments broadcasted to the world.

Posting online is an amazing way to highlight your trip to family and friends. I personally love making video highlights of the countries I visit and sharing them on social media for my friends to see. Social media is a great form of staying in touch with people abroad, it’s just important to remember that most of what you see online are the highlights.

5. Study abroad has to be the best semester of your life.

Studying abroad can be hard. I dropped everything to go to a country knowing nobody, and while I’ve made incredible friends here, having the disconnect from home has been hard. It’s hard feeling like you have to repeat your freshman year of college again, going into a group of people and re-creating those connections. It’s hard adapting to change. Just when you finally feel like your feet are grasping the ground and you can confidently walk around, the wind picks up and you’re swept away again, unsure of where to go. While studying abroad helps you grow as a person, it does not have to be the best semester of your life. Study abroad is tough; it’s mentally challenging. Each day is not as glamorous as people make it out to be on social media or through their testimonials. You do not have to live each day happier than the last. You simply just have to live and grow and enjoy the ride the best you can.

Studying abroad is life-changing, and I’d highly recommend the experience to everybody considering it. The truth is, there are tough times, but then there are the moments when you remember why you took the plunge and went abroad. Whether its walking in Hyde Park and admiring the scenery, getting Thai food at 11 PM with your friends, or seeing the sun rise from the window seat of a plane, there are truly incredible moments that make the tough times worth it.

This post was contributed by Samantha Strausser, who is spending her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in London, England.

5 Stereotypes About Study Abroad That May Not Always Be True | AIFS Study Abroad | London, England

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