Before I left for Hyderabad, India I did a lot of research. I spent nights studying the city, I took a class on Indian Theatre to prepare myself for my courses, and I even talked to a student who attended the same AIFS program the previous year. However, despite my proactive actions I still wasn’t prepared for one thing. While studying abroad can be the best time of your life, the one thing no one talks about is the isolation and loneliness you can feel throughout your time abroad, but especially when you first arrive.
I remember walking into my international house for the first time. They dropped us off around 10:00 pm due to flight delays and it was dark and eerily quiet and barren. I was really nervous about spending the next four months here, but I didn’t want to worry anyone else, so I kept these feelings quiet and told myself that everyone would be better in the sunlight. Fortunately, it was! But, I still found myself feeling slightly off-put by my new environment.
At my home university, I am a very active student and community leader. I’m involved on the Executive Board on three clubs and a member of others, a full time Theatre and English double major, and I work part time. Needless to say, when I’m at home I am very busy. While my abroad university has opportunities for involvement, I wasn’t a part of them for the first few weeks and I found myself with a lot of downtime that I wasn’t used to.
Between classes I would go back to my room and sit in my bed alone. I remember the first two days, I would wake up, eat breakfast, and then go back to sleep until lunch. It wasn’t a healthy way to live, but I was lonely and didn’t know how to process these emotions or help change my situation. I remember thinking that I wanted to go home and quit while I was ahead.
Eventually, I noticed another student who seemed to be feeling the same way and I opened up to her. I told her I was feeling lonely and bored and even a little scared to be in this new space, and she agreed! A huge burden was lifted off of my shoulders and it was comforting to know someone else felt the same way I did. That night, my new friend came to my dorm and we broke out some craft supplies and listened to music while we painted with water colors late into the night. We encouraged each other to sit in the common room instead of our dorms and we checked on each other to make sure we were doing okay.
Studying abroad isn’t a vacation — it is a challenging, life-defining adventure; but if you’re abroad or considering going abroad in the future, know that there is a reason you’ve made it this far.
You are strong and capable and passionate and can change the world if you just push through the hard times. I encourage you to reach out to your fellow AIFS students and your Resident Directors who have all felt the same way you’re feeling. Get creative, do something you enjoy, and get outside of your dorm. Adapting to a new space takes some time, but once you begin to adjust your adventure truly begins.