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Embracing Your True Self While Studying Abroad

by Hayley Pugh
Embracing Your True Self While Studying Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Salamanca, Spain

It can be difficult to stay true to yourself when you study abroad. Everything that keeps you stable, grounded, and gives you a sense of comfort at home — be it work, school, family, friends, or your physical surroundings — are all taken away at once and you feel you have to behave and function the same way as when all of those things were still there. It’s like taking training wheels off a bike and being expected not to fall.

Coping with this change can be a challenge because it forces you to determine who you are and want to be when nothing you’re used to is holding you up or keeping you accountable. This can also be an incredible opportunity. As someone who didn’t anticipate feeling or experiencing this, let me try and help out any of you who are going to study abroad and might experience the same thing. 

Why you have to be yourself when you study abroad:

  1. Only you know what you want to get out of this experience and what will make you happy. It may seem kind of scary to be vulnerable and be your real self out on your own, but you can’t let fear stop you from doing what YOU want to do.
  2. Everything will be so much more enjoyable and memorable if it actually means something to you. If you’re spending time doing things with people just because you don’t want to be alone or don’t know what to do, it won’t matter nearly as much as doing something that made your heart beat faster.
  3. You’ll become more independent, strong, and empowered to do the things you want.
  4. You’ll learn a lot about yourself if you choose to make this a time for and about you. Following your heart while you travel will not only show you a beautiful world, but it can also show you the beautiful things about yourself.
  5. Finally, the only way to be proud of your life is to live it as your heart tells you. It can be scary to choose not to follow the crowd. It can be scary to act differently than everyone else around you. But it’s okay, and it’s important to remember that you are different, and interacting with people and customs that are different from you while being true to yourself is what is going to make this experience so important. This is your chance to do it. Create the journey that you want to be on and you will not be disappointed.

How to stay true to yourself when you study abroad:

1. Listen to yourself.

If something doesn’t feel right for any reason, trust that. However, don’t confuse that with being nervous because something is new. You should try new things and break out of your comfort zone, just be careful and make sure you’re fundamentally okay with whatever that new thing is.

2. Stay connected.

Keep your close friends and family updated on what’s going on. Freedom is nice, but so is accountability with people who know you and want the best for you. If you wouldn’t be comfortable telling them what you’re doing, maybe don’t do that thing.

3. Set personal goals.

Ask yourself what you want to get out of this experience, and think about the person you want to be. Then, if it feels like you’re the only one in this new country that thinks or looks or acts like you do, remember those things and be proud of what you can contribute and learn when you do the things that really make you happy. Following that can lead to amazing opportunities that are perfect for YOU.

4. Document and reflect.

Keep a journal or blog or something to actively reflect on how you’re spending your time. That can be a really great chance to question yourself honestly and make sure you’re happy with what you’re doing and who you’re becoming. Plus, it can help you keep track of all these incredible experiences.

This post was contributed by Hayley Pugh, who is spending her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.

Embracing Your True Self While Studying Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Salamanca, Spain

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